Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Sept. 9, 2023. (Jerry Cornfield / Washington State Standard)

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Sept. 9, 2023. (Jerry Cornfield / Washington State Standard)

Editorial: Recruiting two Bob Fergusons isn’t election integrity

A GOP activist paid the filing fee for two gubernatorial candidates who share the attorney general’s name.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Washington state — not to be outdone by a U.S. presidential campaign that features one candidate beset by doubts about his advanced age, another currently on criminal trial over hush-money payments to a porn star and a third who testified that a parasitic worm “ate” part of his brain and died — is expected to roll out a ballot for the Aug. 6 primary that will feature three Bob Fergusons running for governor.

No, this isn’t a reboot of the classic quiz show, “To Tell the Truth.” All three men, when asked, “Will the real Bob Ferguson please stand up?” can honestly rise.

All three candidates are, in fact, named Bob Ferguson. And all three claim to be Democrats. But for two of those Democrats, you’ll have to take the word of the conservative Republican activist who recruited them and paid the $1,982.57 filing fee for each.

And because the order of the candidates on the ballot is determined by lot, Bob Ferguson, the current state attorney general, is No. 13 among 30 candidates for governor, behind Bob Ferguson, the retired state employee from Yakima, and Bob Ferguson, the military veteran in Graham, who will appear as No. 2 and No. 3 on the ballot — or is it No. 3 and No. 2? — because at this point, we’re not sure who’s who.

Therein lies the potential for confusion, because typically ballots for partisan races offer only name and party for identification. And that confusion was the intent from the start.

Glen Morgan, a conservative GOP activist, admitted as much in boasting to The Seattle Times as Friday’s filing deadline passed, that he contacted about a dozen of the 53 Bob Fergusons in the state, asking them to run as Democrats for governor.

“If I had started a little bit earlier, I would have been able to have six Bob Fergusons,” Morgan told the Washington State Standard.

A further admission that Morgan hadn’t just happened upon two Bob Fergusons who legitimately wanted to serve as governor if elected is evident in his refusal to provide contact information for either lesser-known Bob to The Seattle Times.

Morgan defends his game of Three-Bob Monte by claiming “a lot of people” are upset that the attorney general is “trying to pretend that he cares about public safety when he’s done everything to look the other way and avoid solving any of the problems and almost every activity he’s done as the attorney general has actually made it a lot worse.”

But running two other Fergusons against the leading candidate does nothing to outline policy differences or highlight candidate qualifications for the voters; it’s obfuscation that mocks the state’s election system and the electorate.

“There’s no doubt this last-minute filing by two unknown candidates is an effort to deliberately confuse Washington voters,” said Chris Gregoire, former governor and attorney general, speaking for the current attorney general’s campaign. “It’s nothing less than an attack on our democracy. Washington voters are smart and will see through this highly deceiving — and potentially illegal — effort to mislead them.”

And it may indeed be illegal.

State law makes it a Class B felony to register for office using a “surname similar to one who has already filed for the same office, and whose political reputation is widely known, with intent to confuse and mislead the electors by capitalizing on the public reputation of the candidate who had previously filed.”

Bob 13, the attorney general, filed early last week, before Bob Two and Bob Three filed on Friday.

Some are blaming the state’s open primary system — which determines candidates for the general election by allowing voters to pick the top-two hopefuls, regardless of party — for rules that make such monkey-wrenching possible.

“The problem is we have a top-two open jungle primary where people don’t have to be any active or you know, bona fide part of any party to run as whatever they want to run as,” Bob Walsh, the chair of the state’s Republican Party told the Times.

But Walsh’s argument for a return to more “bona fide” party-centric control would have resonated more strongly if the state Republican Party’s recent convention didn’t feature a revolt from within that passed over the Republican front-runner, Dave Reichert, and endorsed Semi Bird, a former Richland School Board member who admitted to a 1993 misdemeanor conviction for bank fraud.

Washington state has seen — even enjoyed — similar shenanigans in years past. Nearly 50 years ago, the Owl Party — slogan: “Out With Logic, On With Lunacy” — ran a slate of candidates for state office in 1976. The Owls, a group of friends led by an Olympia-area bar owner, used absurdity to make known their dissatisfaction with politics and politicians.

That year’s Owl Party candidate for lieutenant governor, Jack “The Ripoff” Lemon, promised in the voter’s guide that “heads would roll at the state capitol” if he were elected. “This will be accomplished by the renting of two Porta-Pottys, placing them on wheels and pushing them over the precipice behind the Governor’s Mansion.”

But the Owls were making a point; the campaign got people — at the very least — to read their voter’s pamphlets. No voter marked a ballot for Owl Party candidates confusing them with any other candidate, certainly not Republicans or Democrats.

There may be some hope voters can distinguish among Bobs. Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, as the state’s lead election officer, can add information — possibly occupation or status of incumbent or challenger — to help voters pick the Ferguson of their choice.

Regardless, it’s a bad look for a party activist to attempt to game the system by purposely sowing confusion among voters.

So we’ll ask: Will the real party claiming to be defenders of election integrity, please stand up?

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