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High error rate in Tacoma $15 wage issue signatures, auditor says

More than 40 percent of signatures evaluated so far for a $15 minimum wage ballot issue in Tacoma are invalid, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said Friday.

If that trend holds through the rest of the verification process, the measure would not have enough signatures yet to qualify for the fall ballot.

Volunteers with 15 Now Tacoma, who started collecting signatures last year for the $15 minimum wage issue, have until June 17 to collect more signatures. Maximilian Hyland, a volunteer coordinator for the group, said members have continued to collect signatures even after submitting 4,747 to the Tacoma city clerk last week.

“This is very normal when you’re running a city-level campaign,” Hyland said of the relatively high rate of invalid signatures. “You need a very large safety buffer because a lot of people who sign the petition think they live in the city of Tacoma (because they) have an address that says they live in the city of Tacoma.”

Pierce County Auditor’s Office employees this week began verifying the 4,747 signatures already submitted. Anderson said they could complete their work by Wednesday.

So far, they have evaluated 3,073 signatures. Of those, 1,806 are valid registered voters in Tacoma and therefore count toward the measure’s validation. Another 1,267 are labeled as “challenged.” Challenged signatures so far account for 41 percent of those evaluated by the Auditor’s Office.

“That’s a pretty high challenge rate,” Anderson said.

The measure must have 3,160 valid signatures of registered Tacoma voters to get onto the ballot.

Typically the pattern of valid and invalid signatures is consistent throughout the verification process, Anderson said. If the trend holds for the remaining signatures, the issue would fall short of the ballot by a few hundred signatures.

Challenged signatures include those from people who are not registered to vote, people who are not registered to vote in Tacoma, illegible or printed signatures, duplicates, and signatures that don’t match voter registration records.

Of the invalid signatures, 669 are not registered to vote, Anderson said. If there is time, Anderson said her staff will re-examine signatures that don’t match voter records to see if they qualify. So far, only 26 signatures are in that category, she said.

The Pierce County Auditor’s Office is posting daily updates on the signature verification process on its website.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland convened a Minimum Wage Task Force earlier this month after prompting by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. She and other Tacoma City Council members chose 17 people, including two alternates, to develop an alternative to the 15 Now proposal.

The task force will have its first meeting next week. Strickland said she wants to see the task force continue its work regardless of what happens to the 15 Now proposal.

“We need to have a conversation about raising the minimum wage in Tacoma,” she said.

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