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Originally published October 17, 2012 at 6:51 PM | Page modified October 20, 2012 at 1:33 PM

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Truth Needle: Koster flier blurs facts about voting history

Truth Needle: A John Koster flier accuses opponent Suzan DelBene of failing to vote nine times in special and general elections from 2005-2010, adding, "John Koster takes his civic responsibility seriously and never missed a vote." Actually, he missed two votes in special elections while in the Legislature.

Seattle Times staff reporter


The claim: John Koster, the Republican candidate for Congress in the 1st District, is passing out a flier that criticizes his opponent, Democrat Suzan DelBene, for failing to vote regularly before she entered politics. "Suzan DelBene missed a stunning nine votes in special and general elections from 2005-2010," the ad says. "John Koster takes his civic responsibility seriously and never missed a vote."

What we found: Half true.

DelBene, who worked more than 15 years in the technology industry before running for office, ignored a lot of ballots before she decided to put her name on one.

As first reported by The Stranger and then widely repeated in other media, DelBene missed nine votes between 2004 and 2008. She missed, among others, the 2008 Democratic presidential primary and November general elections in 2005 and 2006.

But beyond the fact that DelBene missed nine votes, the Koster campaign's claims grow murkier.

Koster's campaign misstated the dates — the flier mentions 2005-2010 — which makes the missed votes seem more recent than they actually are. Pointing out DelBene's record plays well in Koster's campaign narrative, which says that while Koster is a longtime public servant, DelBene made a sudden U-turn into politics.

The problem is Koster's voting record isn't perfect, either. Records from Snohomish County Elections show the three-term Snohomish County Council member missed two school-levy elections in 1997 and 1998, while he was a state representative in the 39th District. His flier states he "never missed a vote."

In an interview, Koster said the flier's claim is true because he never missed a vote in the same time period, between 2005 and 2010. The word "never" in the flier causes the problem.

Does that mean he didn't take his civic responsibility seriously in the previous years, when he didn't manage to vote?

Koster said he was probably out of town for those special elections, perhaps even at work in Olympia.

"It was likely that I was down in the legislative session," he said. "I admittedly failed to get an absentee ballot."

That hasn't stopped him from making a big fuss on his website about DelBene's irregular voting. The brochure with the "never missed a vote" claim was passed out at a Granite Falls parade and at doors in "a few precincts around the district," said Koster campaign manager Larry Stickney.

For her part, DelBene has not offered excuses for her missed votes, saying only they were "a mistake — a mistake of my past, not a mistake of my future."

She hasn't missed an opportunity to vote since November 2008.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.