State can’t force ex-legislator Hope to repay salary

OLYMPIA — Mike Hope became ineligible to serve in the Legislature on Aug. 19, 2013, when he signed a voter registration card in Mentor, Ohio.

But 11 months passed before anyone found out and Hope quit, a period during which the Republican representative from Snohomish County cast 503 votes and collected monthly installments of his $42,106-a-year salary.

Retaking any of those votes is not going to happen because Hope’s choice didn’t make the difference in any of the outcomes.

But what about the taxpayer dollars paid to the former Seattle cop for salary, per-diem and other job-related expenses when, as it turns out, he shouldn’t have been in office?

Looks like he won’t have to repay a dime.

“At this stage, I don’t see we have any recourse to recoup those expenses,” said Deputy Chief Clerk Bernard Dean of the state House of Representatives.

“I don’t think we can take any official action at this point.”

Hope resigned July 24. Not long after, Tim Sekerak, counsel for the state House, began asking the attorney general, the state elections director and the Snohomish County auditor about the options, and their answers made clear there aren’t any.

Under the state Constitution, the basic requirements for serving as a lawmaker are that a person be a U.S. citizen and a “qualified voter in the district for which he is chosen.”

What Sekerak needed to know was when, precisely, Hope was no longer a qualified voter in the 44th Legislative District, where he served.

Election officers make that determination; hence, the queries to Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel and Katie Blin, the legislative affairs director for the Office of Secretary of State.

They told him Hope met the requirements when he won re-election in 2012, when he was a registered voter living in Lake Stevens.

During the term, Hope had said he sold his home and began renting a place in Mill Creek — though it turns out he never updated his voter registration.

In September 2013, the county changed his status as a voter from “active” to “inactive” when election materials mailed to him were returned as undeliverable with no forwarding information.

An inactive voter is not an unqualified voter because he or she can legally cast a provisional ballot, then update his or her registration and be returned to active status.

Thus, under the law, Hope remained a qualified voter in Washington, even after becoming a new voter in Ohio on Aug. 19, 2013. He did not become an unqualified voter in this state until July 24, when Blinn, the state elections director, acting on information from Ohio election officials, directed county auditor Weikel to cancel Hope’s registration as a Washington voter.

Sekerak also wanted to know if the clock on Hope’s status as a voter could be turned back to when the transgression occurred. If so, the House could possibly set out to get some money back.

But the answer is no. Voters cannot be retroactively disenfranchised.

“A person’s voter registration status may be changed prospectively only. A cancellation cannot cancel a person’s previous or past voter registration status,” Blinn wrote Sekerak on Sept. 17.

Since the county and state had no reason or information to cancel Hope’s registration until July 24, she concluded, “I cannot say that he was not a ‘qualified voter’ during that time, at least for purposes of applying these statutes to elections and voting.”

End of story? Maybe not.

Next year, a few lawmakers who feel they and taxpayers got hoodwinked might explore tweaking state laws to give the House and Senate power to get money back from disgraced members.

While Hope is long gone, his actions won’t soon be forgotten.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623; and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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