Last week, I wrote about the strange goings-on in the Bethel school board races and promised more on Marianne Lincoln’s candidacy.
Marianne filed for the position back in June, withdrew in July and then refiled in August. We’d never seen anything like it, so we asked her about it when she came in for her endorsement interview. What followed was a whole mess of twists and turns.
I’ll try to keep it brief. If you want to read Marianne’s account, it’s at Life In Pierce County. Here’s the gist:
At 4:20 p.m. on the last day of filing week, Marianne filed for a vacant seat on the Bethel school board. Since no one else filed, she was all but ensured a free ride to election.
But, on July 13, Marianne got a call from Pierce County Auditor Jan Shabro that upended her plans. Shabro’s call was sparked by a visit the Bethel school superintendent had paid to the address listed on Marianne’s voter registration. Marianne was registered at her sister’s place, which is the old family homestead, is where Marianne used to live and where her belongings were stored while she was looking for a new place to live.
You might say that Marianne and her sister are not on the best of terms. So when the superintendent showed up, her sister apparently told him that Marianne didn’t live there. And he, in turn, allegedly told Marianne’s sister to report that fact to the auditor.
That’s when Shabro got involved. In what she now admits was an error, Shabro called Marianne to let her know of her sister’s allegation. A recording of Shabro’s voice mail says, “We’ve checked with the prosecuting attorney and it’s kinda serious, Marianne, so I think the best thing for you to do is to withdraw at this time, but I need to talk to you first.”
Whether Shabro actually consulted with the prosecuting attorney is unclear. She told us last month that she didn’t, although she said she may not remember everything that happened. Marianne says that a public records request for any correspondence between the auditor’s office and prosecuting attorney’s office turned up nothing.
Marianne says that when she called Shabro back, Shabro threatened to file charges if she didn’t withdraw. Shabro was in a hurry to get the matter resolved because if the Bethel race was going to require a second filing period, she wanted to advertise it with a Fife race that was also coming open.
I checked with elections staff at the the Secretary of State’s office. They said that there is a presumption in the law that a person’s registration is proper. If a person wants to question another person’s registration, the person questioning the registration bears the burden of proving that the registration is improper.
They also said that once a person establishes residency at a particular location, the person maintains that residency until he or she takes up residency somewhere else. The moment that he or she “takes up residency elsewhere” is up to the voter, and can be very subjective. This is true even if the person is no longer sleeping or staying at the last location.
Marianne alleges partisan shenanigans (she’s a D, Shabro’s an R). I’m more inclined to chalk it up to a sloppiness by a rookie auditor. What Shabro should have done – and she acknowledges as much now – is have the sister file a formal voter registration challenge and let the standard process play out. Shabro says she was trying to save Marianne from embarrassment.
Marianne says she withdraw under duress. Once she had some time to cool off, Marianne realized that she had a legitimate claim. She re-filed for the position when the new filing period opened, only to draw two opponents (one of which has now withdrawn himself). She’s now competing for the position against a former school board member, Robert Etteldorf, who told us that someone asked him to run. He wouldn’t say who.
The school superintendent, Tom Seigel, has apparently continued his curious interest in the case. In August, he asked the school board to amend its policy governing qualifications of candidates to change the wording “qualified voter” to “qualified voter resident.” Word is that the district might be also looking into whether it has to seat Marianne if elected.
This isn’t the first time Lincoln (who has now leased a place within the director district) has had to tangle with voter registration laws. In 1997, when she was Marianne Krizek, she challenged the residency of state Rep. Tom Campbell of Roy, who responded by changing his voter registration temporarily to University Place.
Karma? Maybe. A bungled elections process? Certainly. As much as contested races are good for voters, this one was misbegotten.