A Fight to the End

Voting-rights activist Andy Stephenson, 43, dies.

Voting-rights activist Andy Stephenson was so full of life it seems impossible that he is dead. Surrounded by his life partner, Ted Edmondson, and members of his family, Stephenson passed away on Thursday, July 7, at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. The Seattle resident was 43.

Walter Andrew Stephenson was born in El Paso, Texas. He worked as a telemarketer and was a Subway shop owner before he became concerned about issues surrounding electronic voting and ballot security in 2004. He quickly decided to run as a Democratic candidate for Washington secretary of state opposing Republican incumbent Sam Reed, on a platform calling for a voter-verified paper ballot. But Stephenson dropped out of the race to work full time with prominent election-integrity advocate Bev Harris of Renton, who leads Black Box Voting (www.blackboxvoting.org). The two activists later parted on bad terms, but Stephenson’s work with Black Box Voting raised his national profile, and after he left the organization he continued grassroots lobbying with a loosely affiliated network of like-minded people over the Internet.

In person, Stephenson was a red-headed, crackerjack live wire, full of ideas and energy, chasing after every hint of impropriety by election administrators and the corporations that make voting software and hardware. During an interview, he would simultaneously smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, take phone calls, assign tasks to volunteers, condemn elected officials, and rail against Election Systems & Software, Diebold, and other voting-equipment corporations. He was a heartfelt advocate for his cause and didn’t shy from confrontation with government officials and corporate officers. His passion and affability attracted a following here and on the World Wide Web, particularly among the frequenters of the progressive Web site Democratic Underground (www.democraticunderground.com).

Stephenson became ill in January, and months of treatment followed. In April, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Like the fighter he was, Stephenson was determined to beat the disease and decided to have surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But he was out of work and without insurance, and Hopkins requires payment in full for out-of-state, uninsured patients. So Stephenson’s online community raised $50,000 for him over the Internet. San Francisco’s Elisabeth Ferrari led the effort, raising the money in just 12 days. It was a tribute to his political work and another demonstration of the power of the Internet. But it also spawned a bizarre Web campaign that accused Stephenson of faking his illness to scam money (see “Cancerous Campaign,” July 6). In response, a page (homepage.mac.com/benburch/Andy) was created to document his treatment.

Reaction to Stephenson’s death by his Internet friends was swift. Wrote Will Pitt, in a post on Democratic Underground directed at Stephenson’s accusers: “I am going to make you famous in all the worst kinds of ways. I know your names, I know your addresses, I know your IP numbers, I have screen shots and copies of every vile statement and threat you ever made. I know everything I need to know. Get ready for the ram.”

Stephenson’s health took a turn for the worse on Wednesday June 22, when he was admitted to Virginia Mason Medical Center with post-surgery complications. When I visited him the next day, he was still in battle mode—against his cancer and on behalf of voter rights. Over the next two weeks, his condition steadily declined. After a series of strokes, he died.

Stephenson is survived by Edmondson; his mother, Dorothy M. Stephenson; two sisters, Charlene Johns and George Ann Pye; and an extended family in Texas. He is also grieved for by friends and comrades on the Internet. Wrote Ferrari: “I’m crying like a damned fountain, but he’s free now.”

A memorial service will be held at Town Hall in Seattle at 1119 Eighth Ave., on Saturday, July 16, at 2 p.m.