State elections co-director Katie Blinn sent the letter to the state party chairmen, their counterparts in the Democratic and Republican parties in King County, and the campaign managers for gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee.
Voters in King County had previously been warned by election officials not to give their ballots to groups offering to collect them but to instead mail ballots themselves or drop them off at official locations.
It's not illegal for parties to pick up voters' ballots, but Blinn said there are concerns about the potential for intimidation and tampering.
Blinn contacted state political officials following reports about the "GOP Victory Van" program, which sought to help suburban voters in King County return their ballots. Blinn said there were similar ballot collection efforts by Democrats in 2010.
The secretary of state's office drew a distinction between ballot collection and voter registration drives. "Taking voters' live ballots is really a different matter. We have never seen it at this level, before this year," Blinn said.
Kirby Wilbur, the state Republican Party chairman, said that by collecting ballots from supporters, the GOP was simply copying what Democrats did in 2010, especially in support of Sen. Patty Murray's successful re-election effort.
The gubernatorial race this year is especially hard fought, with the Republican McKenna and the Democrat Inslee running nearly even in most recent polls.
"I saw no complaints two years ago," Wilbur said. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Wilbur said Republicans have the information the secretary of state is seeking, but he questioned whether the party needs to provide it to state officials.
"They have no legal authority here. It's not illegal. We'll deal with them after the elections," he said.
Benton Strong, spokesman for the state Democratic party, said there was no organized effort by Democrats to collect ballots in 2010.
"You can't control what everyone does all the time. From our end, we have instructed our staff, our volunteers, anyone we work with closely to never handle a ballot," Strong said.
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