Vote-Check-Stock

(TNS file)

Final election results will be released Tuesday morning in races throughout Yakima County, including the too-close-to-call Wapato mayor’s race.

Election officials began tabulating the final results Monday evening after a three-member canvassing board culled ballots with questionable signatures, finding only about three out of a group of 22 that could be matched to signature forms voters filled out to verify their signatures.

The board members — Yakima County Auditor Charles Ross, Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic and County Commissioner Rand Elliott — scrutinized the ballots and signatures as they were projected on a wall for about a dozen observers to see.

Of the 96 ballots countywide that had signatures that did not match the voter’s registration form, 30 were from Wapato, where Wapato High School teacher Hector Garza leads semi-retired union organizer Juan “Eddy” Orozco by three votes.

Orozco and Garza watched as the ballots were examined.

Garza declined to comment on the process, while Orozco accused the canvassing board of disenfranchising voters.

“This canvassing committee did a grave injustice to the people of Wapato who voted,” Orozco said. “People came in with their identification and said this is me and signed verification forms, but they were rejected.”

The county reached out to people whose signatures did not match the original and asked them to fill out a form to show their current signature, Ross said. In some cases, people filled out a second one.

It appeared that in some cases one person was signing several ballots, he said. It seemed to happen with families, he added.

Some of the ballots had the signature in block letters where the original was in cursive.

Ross said the election staff is trained in how to recognize handwriting, and the canvassing board was carefully comparing signatures.

“This is one of the rubs of vote by mail,” Ross said.

Before, he said a voter would have to go to a polling place, where workers would verify the voter’s identity on the spot.

In this year’s election, 32,275 ballots were cast — just over 28 percent of the total sent out to registered voters.