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Tue., Jan. 29, 2013, 5:20 p.m.

WA Lege Day 16: Possible changes to elections

OLYMPIA – Legislators have a wide array of changes they think would make the state’s elections run smoother.

At hearings Tuesday, they suggested paying for the postage for voters to return their mail-in ballots, requiring most ballots be in the hands of county elections officials by 8 p.m. election night may be the prime beneficiaries of the state’s current election laws, requiring counties to have more drop-boxes and publishing a voter guide for primary elections. . . 

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All proposals were receiving their first hearings, which means they could get changes before the committees vote on whether to pass them along on the legislative pipeline.

Bills to pay for the return postage on ballots and deploy more drop-boxes prompted questions from elections officials, who wondered if the state would come up with the money for that, or it would be passed on to the counties, cities and towns.

A Senate proposal to require most ballots be received at the local elections offices by 8 p.m. – there’d be exceptions for overseas troops and foreign residents – was a way to speed up the count, sponsor Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said. “It’s important to have a speedy resolution, and that’s not what’s happening in Washington state. The public needs a timely result; candidates deserve to know sooner.”

But Lori Augino, the new state elections director, said some of the public likes to vote on Election Day, and those ballots need to be properly checked and processed. Oregon has a rule similar to the one Roach is proposing, and its ballot count is similar to Washington, where ballots only need to be postmarked by Election Night. About 55 percent of both states’ ballots are counted on Election Night, and 95 percent are counted by Friday of that week.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.