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Camarata v. Kittitas County

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

March 24, 2015

Gene Camarata, Appellant ,
Kittitas County et al., Respondents

Appeal from Thurston Superior Court. Docket No: 12-2-02029-6. Judge signing: Honorable H Christopher Wickham. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 06/14/2013.

Richard L. Pope Jr. (of Law Office of Richard Pope ), for appellant.

Gregory L. Zempel, Prosecuting Attorney for Kittitas County, and Christopher E. Horner, Deputy, for respondent.

Authored by Linda CJ Lee. Concurring: Jill M Johanson, Bradley A. Maxa.


Page 823

[186 Wn.App. 699] Linda CJ Lee, J.

[¶1] Gene Camarata appeals the Kittitas County auditor's (Auditor) decision canceling his voter registration in Kittitas County. The Auditor canceled Camarata's voter registration after a challenge was filed proving the address at which Camarata registered to vote was a parking lot. Camarata argues that (1) the Auditor's decision is invalid because Camarata did not receive proper notice, (2) the Auditor did not comply with the requirement to post the voter registration

Page 824

challenge on the Auditor's website, (3) the Auditor's decision is legally incorrect, (4) the Auditor's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and (5) the Auditor violated the appearance of fairness. We hold that the Auditor complied with the statutory requirements for notice and posting, the Auditor properly determined that the law does not permit a homeless person to register at an address at which that person does not currently reside, the Auditor's decision was supported by [186 Wn.App. 700] substantial evidence, and the Auditor did not violate the appearance of fairness. Accordingly, we affirm.


[¶2] On May 17, 2012, Camarata registered to vote in Kittitas County. Camarata identified " 1001 E. 8th Ave., (#4), ELLENSBURG, WA 98926" as his residential address. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 51. He identified " General Delivery[,] Ellensburg, WA 98926" as his mailing address. CP at 51.

[¶3] On June 5, after the Kittitas County prosecutor raised a concern about Camarata's voter registration, Kittitas County Sheriff's Detective Darren Higashiyama began investigating Camarata for voter registration fraud. Higashiyama determined that 1001 E. 8th Ave. was an empty lot owned by Kittitas County Fairgrounds. The apartment that was originally at the 1001 E. 8th Ave. address was completely demolished in 2008. Higashiyama drove to 1001 E. 8th Ave. and took photographs of the property. There were no identifiable structures on the property. Higashiyama also determined that the Kittitas County Fairgrounds does not rent or lease its property and that no one was living or residing on the Kittitas County Fairgrounds property. On June 12, Higashiyama received a phone call from Camarata, and Camarata told Higashiyama that he was sleeping on buses in Yakima.

[¶4] Higashiyama sent a letter to both addresses Camarata listed on his voter registration form, asking Camarata to verify the address in his voter registration. He also performed searches for Camarata's address in online directories and the phone book. Higashiyama searched Kittitas County property records and determined that Camarata did not own any property in Kittitas County. Higashiyama also did a search of the statewide voter registration records, which showed Camarata was not registered to vote in any other county.

[186 Wn.App. 701] [¶5] On June 22, Higashiyama filed a challenge to Camarata's voter registration. The voter registration challenge alleged that Camarata did not reside at his registered address. Higashiyama alleged that Camarata's actual residence was " Transient, Yakima County." CP at 31. Higashiyama also attested that he personally took the following steps: (1) sent a letter to Camarata's known addresses to verify his address in the voter registration, (2) searched local telephone directories, (3) searched county property records, (4) searched the statewide voter registration database, and (5) visited the voter's residential address. Higashiyama attached a copy of his investigation report signed under the penalty of perjury. He included a copy of the letter he mailed to Camarata, and he included copies of the Internet searches, relevant phone book pages, county property records, and the results of the statewide voter registration database search.

[¶6] Sue Higginbotham, administrative assistant and election supervisor for Kittitas County, posted the entire voter registration challenge form on the Auditor's website. Based on advice from the Washington Secretary of State, Higginbotham did not post all the materials attached to the voter registration challenge form. A hearing on the voter registration challenge was scheduled for July 13, 2012. On June 26, the Auditor mailed the voter registration challenge and notice of the hearing to Camarata's mailing address: General Delivery, Ellensburg, WA 98926.

[¶7] The hearing was held on July 13. Neither Camarata nor Higashiyama was present at the hearing. The documents attached to Higashiyama's voter registration challenge were admitted into evidence. The administrative record also included photocopies of four envelopes that were sent to Camarata at his mailing address: General Delivery, Ellensburg, WA 98926. All four envelopes had been returned unclaimed. The first was

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a letter sized envelope that had been sent via certified mail on June 28, 2012. There was $0.45 postage and fees for certified mail and return [186 Wn.App. 702] receipt for a total of $5.75. There were also three other envelopes from the Auditor, all of which were letter sized envelopes with $0.45 postage.

[¶8] Based on the July 13 hearing, the Auditor issued written findings of fact and conclusions of law on September 5, 2012. The Auditor found that the address at which Camarata registered was a vacant lot used for parking for the Kittitas County Fairgrounds. And, the Auditor concluded that the documentation submitted by Higashiyama proved by clear and convincing evidence that Camarata did not reside at the registered address: 1001 E. 8th Ave., (#4), Ellensburg, WA 98926.

[¶9] Camarata filed a petition for review with the Thurston County Superior Court. The superior court found that the Auditor followed the required statutory procedures and that the Auditor's decision was supported by substantial evidence. The superior court affirmed the Auditor's decision. Camarata appeals.[1]


A. Standard of Review

[¶10] We review the Auditor's decision on a voter registration challenge as an administrative action under the Washington Administrative Procedure Act, chapter 34.05 RCW. RCW 29A.08.840(6). The party challenging the agency action bears the burden of demonstrating the agency action's invalidity. RCW 34.05.570(1)(a). We may reverse an agency action if the action is unconstitutional, the agency has erroneously interpreted or applied the law, or the agency's order is not supported by substantial evidence. RCW 34.05.570(3)(a), (d), (e). We sit in the same [186 Wn.App. 703] position as the superior court and review the record before the agency. Mader v. Health Care Auth., 149 Wn.2d 458, 470, 70 P.3d 931 (2003).

[¶11] Many of Camarata's issues require us to engage in statutory interpretation. Statutory interpretation is a question of law we review de novo. Lake v. Woodcreek Homeowners Ass'n, 169 Wn.2d 516, 526, 243 P.3d 1283 (2010). The purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine and give effect to the legislature's intent. Id. To determine legislative intent, we first look to the statute's plain language. Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 9-10, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). In determining the plain meaning, we must consider " 'the context of the statute in which that provision is found, related provisions, and the statutory scheme as a whole.'" Lake, 169 Wn.2d at 526 (quoting State v. Engel, 166 Wn.2d 572, 578, 210 P.3d 1007 (2009)). If the plain language of the statute is unambiguous, our inquiry ends. Id. " But if the statute is ambiguous, 'this court may look to the legislative ...

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