Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 36° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Full-scale mail voting supported

Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers may authorize full-scale mail voting in Washington state — one county at a time.

Washington already has a generous absentee ballot law that has boosted the mail-voting rate to 70 percent. Without taking the full step toward voting entirely by mail, as Oregon has done, state lawmakers may hasten the process by giving counties the local option of eliminating poll sites.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and the state’s county auditors weighed in strongly for the legislation during a Senate hearing Monday on a variety of election changes. They said not all counties will adopt the all-mail elections, but will appreciate the option.

“Each county has its own dynamic,” Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman said.

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy said a majority of her colleagues probably would switch to all-mail voting. She said her own county likely would retain its current hybrid system of absentee voting, coupled with 95 “super sites” for in-person voting.

Reed said many counties have used all-mail voting for special elections, school levies and primaries without partisan offices. The system is usually cheaper, since the county doesn’t have to rent poll sites, pay poll workers or worry about hundreds of voting machines, he said.

The legislation says the individual county council or board of commissioners would make the decision. Currently, a county can make the switch only if it has no precincts of more than 200 people. Ferry, Okanogan, Clallam and Skamania already have all mail-voting under this provision and Whatcom and Mason counties recently voted to switch.

But Reed said it would be an onerous task for a big county, such as King, to downsize all its precincts just so it could dump the old system.

Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger said Snohomish and Yakima counties could switch to all-mail voting rather than developing a “paper trail” for their touch-screen voting machines. The 14 counties that have to switch from punchcard voting also might want the simple option of mail voting, he said.

The prime sponsor, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, told the elections panel that the state should give counties maximum flexibility for determining what works best.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he understands the appeal of vote-by-mail, but said society loses the civic ceremony of voting in neighborhood polling places.

Reed agreed, but said that is offset by the much greater participation when voters have the convenience of voting from their own homes, with Voters Pamphlet and media campaign coverage handy and telephones available if the voter wants to consult someone in midvote.

Terwilliger said the local-option legislation could be the prelude to the state eventually shifting completely to vote-by-mail.

The committee took no action Monday. The panel also took testimony on bills to require the state to shoulder more of the counties’ cost of running elections, require publication of a primary Voters Pamphlet, and upgrade requirements for voter registration lists.

Lawmakers also are considering a variety of election reform bills, including moving the primary to earlier in the summer and mandating uniform handling of ballots.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.