August 17, 2009 in City

County’s top elections official discusses the vote-by-mail process

Face Time: Vicky Dalton
By The Spokesman-Review
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton and her staff are already processing mail-in ballots for Tuesday’s primary.
(Full-size photo)

Voters around Washington have until Tuesday to get their ballots in the mail or into the drop box for a primary that whittles down choices for city and town councils, school and fire boards. All but one county in the state vote by mail, so the idea of going to the polls on “election day” has been replaced with a three-week period in which ballots are mailed out, received, marked, signed and returned. In Spokane County, voters also are being asked to extend a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to help cover law enforcement costs. Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, the county’s chief elections officer, talks about how the primary is shaping up.

Q: What are you expecting for turnout?

A: We’re sitting at about 22 percent (on Thursday afternoon) and expect to achieve between 34 and 36 percent.

Q: Is that typical for a municipal primary in the summer?

A: We had 33 percent in 2007. This is only our second August for a municipal primary. … The primaries used to be in September.

Q: How has that changed turnout?

A: I think the change in turnout occurred from going to vote-by-mail from the hybrid of absentee/poll site. We have seen a bit of an increase … in the specials and the primaries. The mid-20s were pretty much standard (for this type of primary). Now we’re looking at the mid-30s.

Q: But don’t some people complain about vote-by-mail?

A: There’s a few who miss the nostalgia of the poll site, that feeling of camaraderie or accomplishment of their civic duty. But there’s many more people who really prefer the vote-by-mail.

Q: Can a voter be identified through coding on the ballot?

A: No. The timing marks over on the side (of the ballot) only tell us what portion of the precinct you’re in. If we have a precinct with no splits in it, then all those ballots are going to have the same set of marks on the side. If a precinct has a school district split, that precinct will have two sets of marks – one for, let’s say, Central Valley and one for East Valley. We have no idea who that ballot belongs to as far as an individual, and we don’t care.

Q: What’s the biggest problem you’re seeing on the ballots?

A: People changing their votes. We have to remake 9 to 10 percent in every election because people change their minds. We’ve had some elections where we had to remake 20 percent. The ballot has to be remade because if there are marks in two of those ovals, the computer will read that as an “over.” Voters change their minds, and that’s fine. Voters have the right to change their minds right up ’til the last second when they put it in the mail.


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