Eyman Blisters Elections Office; Secretary Of State Fires Back

OLYMPIA - State election workers have begun checking Tim Eyman's latest initiative signatures, and a nervous Eyman accused the secretary of state's office of "gross incompetence, purposeful sabotage or blatant dishonesty" because it reported nearly 35,000 fewer signatures than he insists he turned in.

Secretary of State Sam Reed flatly rejected Eyman's barb, saying he resents the insinuation that his agency lost or destroyed thousands of signatures.

"It's a game that's being played, and an irresponsible game," Reed said Monday. He said it can undermine public confidence in the whole election process.

Officials say Eyman turned in 266,006 signatures in support of Initiative 917, limiting car tabs to $30 a year. That is far less than the 300,353 he told reporters he had submitted.

It takes 224,880 valid signatures to secure a place on the November ballot.

A dozen election workers began checking 4 percent of the signatures on Monday. The random check is expected to wrap up by next Monday. If Eyman has enough signatures, I-917 goes to the ballot; if not, a full hand check will be made, possibly taking until mid-September.

Eyman traveled to Olympia on Monday to declare that if he fails to qualify an initiative that has been on the ballot twice before, he can only presume that the elections division is to blame.

"We're certain we turned in 300,353 signatures" and the state's much lower number is inexplicable, he said in an interview. Last week, he sent The Associated Press copies of weekly e-mails that showed a running tally of signatures. The last count he shows is about 288,000, but Eyman said that doesn't include about 12,000 that came in in the final days of the campaign.

"It's exasperating," he said. "You want to rip your hair out and start screaming and get a blowtorch and go down there."

Voters have twice approved Eyman's push for an annual car-tab tax limit of $30. The actual rate paid by motorists is higher than that, due to administrative fees and some state and local transportation taxes.

Eyman's I-917 would repeal weight fees and other taxes passed by the 2005 Legislature as part of an $8.5 billion transportation package, as well as some local taxes, such as the Sound Transit regional vehicle tax. Eyman's measure would remove an estimated $2.7 billion from state projects and revamp the way government calculates a car's value for tax purposes.

Eyman said he has a receipt, stamped by the secretary of state's office, for 300,353 names.

Reed replied that the "receipt" was nothing of the kind, but rather a number written by Eyman on a piece of notepaper and stamped by a receptionist. As for the supposedly missing signatures, "there is no mystery," just the reality that Eyman turned in fewer signatures than he said he did, Reed said.

"We have very tight security and a very strict chain of custody," developed decades ago in conjunction with the State Patrol after some petitions were stolen, he said.

"I have never heard of anyone remotely saying there was a problem, including Tim Eyman in all the times he has come down here," Reed said.

Nick Handy, the state election director, said that despite Eyman's certainty, he simply didn't submit more than 266,000 signatures.

"His representations of having submitted more are just not true. They're just not true," Handy said.

Reed said Eyman can't be counted out, but has significantly fewer signatures than the three other initiatives that will be checked. Those address property rights, the state estate tax and alternative energy.

Handy said Eyman would need the lowest invalidation rate he's ever had with any of his initiatives to qualify, about 15 percent. Eyman's previous initiatives have had invalid signature rates of between 16.7 percent and 23 percent.