February 1, 2012 in City

Spokane County ballots get a makeover

Voters’ signatures will be exposed on envelopes, but not their choices
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin holds up the new envelope, right, and the old one in the county elections office Tuesday. The change from an envelope with a large flap to one without the flap, saves about $25,000.
(Full-size photo)

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In 1972, voters in Spokane rejected three consecutive levies, leading to widespread cuts, school closures and layoffs. Columnist Shawn Vestal says voters have largely avoided a repeat ever since. Page A5

Drop boxes countywide

Secure Spokane County ballot drop boxes are located at libraries throughout the county and at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza in downtown Spokane and the county elections office at 1033 W. Gardner Ave.

Voters might notice a change in this month’s levy election ballot envelopes, and some may not like what they see.

Spokane County is using new ballot return envelopes that eliminate a flap of paper that previously covered voter signatures.

The change is going to save the county $25,000 a year, said Auditor Vicky Dalton.

Nearly 260,000 mail-in ballots were sent out countywide in recent days for a coordinated school levy election on Feb. 14.

After casting their ballots, voters will place them inside a pair of return envelopes, including a plain inner envelope and an outer envelope for mailing.

The outer envelope includes a declaration and signature line for voters to attest that they are complying with election laws. Ballots have to be signed to be counted. The inner envelope protects the secrecy of the voters’ choices.

But the new outer envelopes leave the signature visible to postal workers and elections staff. The change was made possible by the Legislature in 2010.

Dalton said there should be few concerns about identity security since the ballot contains no other personal information such as a Social Security number.

Nevertheless, for those who are concerned, Dalton recommended depositing the ballot into a U.S. Postal Service letter box or elections drop box rather than leaving it in a street-side mail box for pickup by a carrier. The postal and elections boxes are locked and collected regularly, she said.

Dalton said the flaps on the former envelopes required staff to remove a perforated tab. The new envelope speeds processing and cuts labor costs.

In addition, the extra flap added weight to the outgoing mailing, forcing the county to pay additional postage.

King, Snohomish and Thurston counties in Washington have already switched to the less-expensive envelopes.

Dalton said there was nothing to stop someone from peeling off the perforated tab on the old envelopes.

Thus, the envelope flap and tab provided “a false sense of security,” she said.

As part of the levy election, Spokane County is going to handle ballot processing for voters living outside of the county in three school districts.

Cheney, Deer Park and Riverside schools have voters living in adjacent counties, but Spokane is going to handle all of the ballots in each of those districts.

Dalton said the counties in the region swap elections services for cross-county districts to help save money in the overall cost of elections.

This year’s special school election is going to cost more than $300,000, Dalton said.


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