Bellingham mayoral candidate's signature bid fails

Judge denies request for recount
June 6, 2023 at 12:12 p.m.
Joel Johnson appears June 6 in Whatcom County Superior Court. A judge denied his request to halt the election for Bellingham mayor.
Joel Johnson appears June 6 in Whatcom County Superior Court. A judge denied his request to halt the election for Bellingham mayor. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

A Whatcom County Superior Court judge on June 6 denied a would-be candidate’s request to halt the election for mayor of Bellingham. The Aug. 1 primary will proceed with five valid names on the ballot, county Auditor Diana Bradrick said.

Joel Johnson, 38, asked Judge Lee Grochmal to stop Bradrick from releasing the primary ballot until hundreds of signatures on his candidate petition were recounted a second time — by hand, if necessary.

Essentially, Grochmal denied Johnson’s motion for a preliminary injunction on a technicality. The judge said Johnson, who represented himself in the case, should have filed a legal complaint claiming negligence on the part of the auditor’s office. The complaint would have served as the justification for the injunction.

“There’s no complaint filed,” Grochmal said. “I'm not convinced that I have any authority to order the auditor's office to do another recount or to change its methodology (for conducting the count).”

In his filing, Johnson claimed the verification of the 2,506 signatures he submitted “was significantly flawed, malfunctioning and subjective.” Johnson cited “irregularities” in the software used, including petition pages being scanned “at an irregular angle, which prohibited software to operate as intended.”

“Blaming the auditor when someone loses an election is growing tiresome,” county prosecuting attorney Royce Buckingham said, in his defense of Bradrick.

“It's a familiar complaint that we've seen. It's without basis,” Buckingham continued. “It’s premised on the idea that if the candidate has lost, there must be something wrong with the voting.”

To appear on the primary ballot, Johnson needed 2,211 valid signatures from registered voters who live in Bellingham. He submitted the signatures in lieu of the $2,211 filing fee.

The auditor concluded that 716 signatures were invalid, including 614 from people who were not registered to vote in Bellingham. Given 2,506 signatures submitted, only 295 could have been disqualified for any reason for Johnson’s petition to be successful.

After the hearing, Bradrick said the case against her office has caused no delay in the primary election. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed to voters around July 14. Appearing on the ballot in the Bellingham mayor’s race will be incumbent Seth Fleetwood, Kim Lund, Chris McCoy, Mike McAuley and city council member Kristina Michele Martens. All of those candidates paid the $2,211 fee.

In a written statement provided after the hearing, Johnson urged his supporters to write his name on the ballot. He has said that if elected, his first act as mayor would be to declare a public health emergency, to more aggressively address homelessness.

“Most people who I spoke with while petitioning found it unfair that anyone who wants to participate in getting on the ballot would be withheld from doing so based on a fee,” Johnson’s statement said. “While it may take an act of the Legislature to change this, I will not stop working to advance this campaign to intervene in the suffering related to homelessness in our community.”

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