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Dog owner shows own trick at polls

She registers her pet to vote to make a point. Now, she could get jail.

July 01, 2007|Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writer

FEDERAL WAY, WASH. — Anyone reading through the King County voting rolls would find under M one Duncan M. MacDonald, an Australian Shepherd-terrier mix with shaggy paws and a glistening black nose.

Duncan's owner, Jane Balogh, 66, a self-described "white-haired granny," is appalled that her dog remains on the rolls months after she informed authorities of her ruse.

Balogh said she wanted to expose the laxity of registration laws and show how easy it is for someone not entitled to vote to get a ballot and potentially skew an election.

Officials in King County, which includes Seattle and this suburb of about 83,000, are so unhappy with Duncan's owner that they're set to charge her with voter fraud, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

A pretrial hearing has been set for July 11.

Meanwhile, a popular conservative talk-radio program has hailed Balogh's actions as clever while the state's largest newspaper, the Seattle Times, in a recent editorial condemned the ruse as having "crossed the line."

Balogh, who describes herself as shy and reclusive, has been startled by the attention but seems resolute in fighting to the end. She could have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and been done with it, but on Friday, she went to the King County Courthouse with a lawyer and told a judge she would rather face trial.

"Yes, I'm very nervous about all this," Balogh said in an interview at her home. "But I wasn't trying to scam an election or do anything fraudulent. I wanted to make a point. I thought maybe they'd even say, 'Thank you.' "

An Army veteran with two grown children, Balogh lives with Duncan, three other dogs and five cats in a quiet tree-lined subdivision next to a golf course. She says she's an inveterate letter-writer who feels strongly about issues.

After voter-fraud allegations in the 2000 presidential election and in the 2004 gubernatorial race in Washington, Balogh, with encouragement from family and friends, came up with the idea of registering one of her dogs as a voter.

In early 2006, she put her telephone account in Duncan's name and then used a phone bill as identification to register him as a King County voter. As part of the process, she signed the form declaring Duncan was a legitimate voter -- which is at the heart of the case against her.

In three subsequent elections, Balogh sent in absentee ballots in Duncan's name. She wrote "void" on the ballots and signed the envelopes with a paw print.

At the same time she was sending in Duncan's ballots, she was writing letters to legislators describing her trick and pleading for them to "fix the system."

The ballots, elections officials said, could have counted had she not blown the whistle on herself.

Eventually she got a call from an elections worker and shortly after received a visit from a King County detective. The prosecutor's office, instead of charging her with a felony, offered a misdemeanor charge -- making false or misleading statements to a public official -- if she agreed to plead guilty. The penalty would have been 10 hours of community service and a $250 fine.

Balogh initially agreed, but said that with Duncan's imploring eyes upon her, she changed her mind. She also is miffed that Duncan's name remains on the voting rolls. Election officials said taking someone off the rolls is much more difficult than adding someone. It entails a formal challenge and a public hearing.

"We take this very, very seriously," said Bobbie Egan, spokeswoman for the King County elections office. Egan called Balogh's actions "an attack on democracy" and "a manipulation of the system."

Yes, Balogh made a point, Egan said, but "ultimately she'll have to figure out whether it was worth it when she is prosecuted."

Voter registration is designed to be easy because the aim is to get as many people as possible involved in the election process, Egan said. "Enfranchisement, at the end of the day, is our end goal." Making the process too complicated or arduous could deter people from voting.

But while the process is easy, the document -- the registration form -- is equivalent to a sworn affidavit. "You can't lie on an affidavit," said King County Acting Prosecuting Atty. Dan Satterberg.

"She had a point to make, and so do we," Satterberg said. "There has to be a response."

tomas.alex.tizon@latimes.com

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