State Sen. Mark Mullet, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are both running as Democrats for governor in 2024. (Photos provided)

State Sen. Mark Mullet, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are both running as Democrats for governor in 2024. (Photos provided)

Did Bob Ferguson go too far responding to fellow Fergusons?

Ferguson wanted the secretary of state to redo the ballot. Mark Mullet, a Democratic rival, says such a move would’ve broken the law.

  • By Wire Service
  • Tuesday, May 21, 2024 1:30pm
  • Local News

By Jerry Cornfield / Washington State Standard

Democratic candidate Bob Ferguson pursued various hardball political and legal tactics to get two opponents who share his name out of the governor’s race — including an option the secretary of state said Washington election law doesn’t allow.

Now, rival Democratic candidate Mark Mullet is accusing Ferguson of going too far, arguing he pressed Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to break the law. At issue is Ferguson’s demand that Hobbs redo the order of candidates on the ballot.

Mullet’s broadside, delivered Monday, renews attention on the brief firestorm ignited when Republican activist Glen Morgan recruited two other Bob Fergusons to file on May 10 as last-minute candidates in the race.

The lesser-known Fergusons, from Yakima and Graham, did drop out amid threats from the front running Ferguson — who is the state attorney general — to see them criminally prosecuted for trying to confuse and mislead voters with their candidacies.

“I completely condemn what those two Bobs did,” Mullet said in an interview.

“That said, it is shocking to see the attorney general requesting other agencies to break the law. That’s how bad he wants this office. This speaks directly to Bob Ferguson’s character and that should matter to every voter in the state,” Mullet added.

Ferguson responded sharply, saying Mullet “does not” know the law and insisting provisions in state code give Hobbs authority to do what is needed to alleviate voter confusion, including revising the order of candidates on the ballot.

“It’s unfortunate Mullet does not support this simple act for election integrity, but perhaps the fact that he would have benefited from that confusion explains his anti-democratic position,” Ferguson said in a statement.

A ‘spirited conversation’

When the other two Fergusons entered the race, Attorney General Ferguson called it a scheme to trick voters, dilute his votes and prevent him from advancing past the primary.

He and lawyers for the state Democratic Party spent the weekend following Friday, May 10 digging into the two Bobs’ backgrounds and delivering cease-and-desist letters to their homes, letting them know they could land in jail if they didn’t withdraw.

On May 13, Ferguson held a press conference in Seattle, vowing to see them prosecuted for violating an 81-year-old state law that makes it a felony to challenge someone with the same name “and whose political reputation is widely known, with intent to confuse and mislead the electors.”

That same day, Zachary Pekelis, Ferguson’s attorney, sent a letter to Hobbs saying he must include occupations for all three and redo the ballot so the other Fergusons appeared behind the attorney general. The order set by state election officials had Bob Arthur Ferguson of Yakima appearing second, Bob Benjamin Ferguson of Graham third and Bob Ferguson of Seattle in the 13th spot.

After getting the letter, Hobbs phoned Ferguson to let him know he would include occupations for each but not mess with the order of names on the ballot.

“I was surprised he was asking me to do something that I clearly cannot do because it is in the [law],” Hobbs said. “He was very upset. It was a spirited conversation.”

“I think Glen Morgan and the Bobs broke the law,” Hobbs said. “So I’ve got this bad criminal action going but at the same time I have to follow the law.”

Hobbs stressed state law, embodied in the Revised Code of Washington, or RCW, supersedes regulatory directives of the Washington Administrative Code, or WAC. “It doesn’t take a first-year law student to know that,” he said.

He said he followed RCW 29A.36.131 which says the election officer “shall determine by lot” the order in which the names of candidates will appear on ballots.

But Ferguson contended a provision in the Washington Administrative Code, 434-215-060, gives Hobbs discretion to rearrange the ballot to lessen voter confusion.

“Washington state code specifically grants the Secretary of State authority to ‘differentiate between the candidates by … any other means which, in the judgment of the filing officer, fairly and impartially distinguishes the candidates’,” he said in a statement.

To do anything less, Pekelis wrote in his letter, “would represent a dereliction of duty, establish a dangerous precedent, and turn a blind eye to the criminal corruption of the democratic process.”

Ferguson said he was prepared to sue to force Hobbs’ hand.

“We would have won. A judge in Thurston County would not allow a ballot to proceed with a fraudulent Bob in one place and another Bob in another place,” he said in an interview.

Ferguson insinuated Hobbs’ reluctance might be tied to his endorsement of Mullet. Hobbs said the two never spoke about his decision.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com.

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