Evan Smith on Politics: Officials have mixed reactions to elections bills before State House of Representatives

Sunday, February 24, 2013


By Evan Smith

Elections officials from around the State have expressed a mix of reactions to five elections bills now before the State House of Representatives.

One county auditor said Tuesday that many of the bills were good ideas that would be expensive.

The House committee on government operations and elections approved the five bills Feb. 11.

One, called the “Washington Voting Rights Act," would encourage cities and other jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to smaller districted elections. The bill would allow groups that have difficulties getting elected in at-large elections to sue in state courts if they believe an electoral system violates their rights. For example, Hispanics make up 45 percent of Yakima’s population but have never elected one of their own to the city council under the at-large voting system used in most Washington cities. So far, their only recourse is an expensive and time-consuming suit in federal courts. The bill in the legislature would allow suits in state courts.

The Washington Association of County Auditors has stayed neutral on the voting Rights Act because it is an issue of politics rather than one of elections administration. One county auditor, however, said that the bill could lead to litigation and that having elections in many districts could make local elections more expensive than they are now because officials could have to design different ballots for each district in a city.

Another bill would reduce the registration deadlines to the day of the election for in-person registration in a county elections office and eight days for online registration. Currently, the deadline for mail and on-line registration and for previously registered Washington voters to change their voting addresses is 29 days before an election and the deadline for in-person registration for new Washington voters is eight days before an election.
Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said last week that the auditors’ association favored having a single election registration deadline instead of one for in-person registration and another for mail and on-line registration. She added that the association had proposed a compromise that would set a single deadline 11 days before Election Day. She said that an 11-day deadline would leave two weekends before Election Day and it would avoid confusion between the current 29-day and eight-day deadlines.

A third bill would increase the number of postage-free ballot drop box locations. It would set a minimum number of boxes for the number of people in an area and require boxes at each state university and community college.

Weikel said that the proposal for more ballot drop boxes is a good idea that needs more study. She said that all parts of the State are different and that the bill would require four boxes on the Everett Community College campus, boxes that might be more useful elsewhere. Weikel said that 40 percent of her county's ballots in the November election came from the 11 drop boxes around the county but that adding more would be expensive. She said that buying the secure boxes is expensive as is sending people to pick up ballots at each site at 8 p.m. Election Day.

A fourth bill would allow for pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds who get driver’s licenses, making them eligible to vote when they reach 18.

Weikel said that she and other county elections officials questioned the proposal because many students move between ages 16 and 18. She said outreach in schools is a better approach to encouraging young people to start voting.

The final bill would require county and state elections offices to develop a uniform ballot design for use in all elections in the state.

This is aimed at avoiding confusion if voters move from county to county and at allowing counties to buy equipment and supplies in bulk, but the Snohomish County auditor said that uniform ballots weren’t necessary and would be expensive. She said that the number of people who move from county to county is small. She added that many counties would have to adopt new forms. She noted that since King and Snohomish counties use different kinds of ballots, at least one would have to buy all new equipment/She said that the bill might have been good if each county was just starting but would be too expensive with different counties having different systems.



1 comments:

Anonymous,  March 10, 2013 at 11:47 AM  

Regarding the third bill, that's encouraging people to drive - usually across town - to save a 46¢ stamp, unless they happen to be shopping/visiting the location where the drop box is. Instead, the bill should make ballots postage-free, then have the post office send the applicable county the bill for the postage, which in turn would be paid for from general funds.

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