OLYMPIA – Elections officials will no longer have their names on the return envelopes for mail-in ballots and in voter pamphlets if they’re running for re-election that year, a bill that received final approval in the Senate Tuesday says.
It was one of a handful of tweaks to state election laws that moved easily through the Senate on final passage. Lawmakers also dropped recounts for statewide advisory measures and allowed voters to challenge results of ballot measures.
On a 47-0 vote, the Senate sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill that keeps the Secretary of State’s name off the state voter pamphlet in his or her official capacity and a county auditor’s name off the return envelopes in Washington’s all-mail voting system in years when they are on the ballot. Each heads the office that oversees elections, and their names regularly appear on official mailings sent to voters by state or local governments.
Critics said that amounts to an unfair advantage for incumbents. In 2010, Spokane Republicans filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission, contending that Democratic Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton’s name on ballot envelopes amounted to a use of public funds for her campaign. The PDC later dismissed the claim, saying that it was routine for the auditor’s name to be on office mail.
Dalton said Tuesday the Spokane County elections office took her name off the return envelopes a year or two ago when it ordered the latest batch of envelopes. The office goes through about 1 million envelopes a year and orders them in bulk to save money, she said.
The rules barring the names on the ballot envelopes, sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, unanimously passed the House and Senate in slightly different forms last year; it passed unanimously again, with the same language, this year. If signed by Inslee, it would take effect for this year’s elections, when Secretary of State Kim Wyman is up for re-election.
Another bill, which passed 48-0, exempts statewide advisory measures on tax changes from being subject to recounts. Such advisory measures to repeal or maintain a particular tax are required by a 2008 initiative, and have appeared 13 times on general election ballots since then. A majority of voters have advised lawmakers to repeal some taxes and maintain others, but none has ever resulted in the Legislature removing or even reconsidering a tax.
Under current state law, a statewide ballot measure with a margin of less than 2,000 votes is subject to an automatic recall. The results of an advisory ballot have never been that close, but a recount could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if one ever is.
Legislation that allows a voter to challenge the results of a ballot measure, request a judicial review and have the results invalidated under certain circumstances if improper conduct is discovered also passed 48-0.
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