This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
Poll voting’s time is up, sad to say.
Pierce County has gone to heroic lengths to keep tradition alive. But this once-proud civic custom is but a shadow of its former self – and an expensive one at that.
Would that it weren’t so. Voting at the local school or fire hall (“as God intended it,” we once wrote, not entirely in jest) seemed like a rite of passage in a democracy.
Voters older than 35 probably still remember how they felt when they stepped into a voting booth and marked their choices for the first time. It’s a thrill you don’t get filling out a form at the kitchen table.
But as Americans have taken to bowling alone, many of them have also decided they prefer voting alone.
Notwithstanding last November’s long lines, which were prompted by a historic presidential election, use of poll sites has been steadily declining.
In last month’s primary election, 3,000 voters chose to go to the polls rather than cast their ballots by mail. It cost Pierce County $75,000 – or $25 a ballot – to accommodate 4 percent of the turnout.
The electorate has voted with its feet. Mail ballots are by far the preferred method these days. Pierce County held out as long as it could – longer than any other county in the state – but the two-headed voting system is quickly becoming a luxury the county cannot afford.
County Executive Pat McCarthy, facing declining sales taxes and other revenue, is drawing up a “pretty draconian” budget for next year. Poll voting is not a part of it. McCarthy, a former county auditor, says she can’t justify setting aside $150,000 for poll voting when staff and programs are being eliminated.
She has a fight on her hands. The County Council has opposed efforts to convert to an all-mail voting system in the past and has already signaled opposition to McCarthy’s pending proposal. Councilman Dick Muri says budget problems aren’t a good reason to end poll voting.
Money would not be a good reason to scrap poll voting if it remained a vigorous, popular part of the election system. But the reality is that Pierce County polling places are more cherished than chosen these days.
Rather than keep poll voting on life supports and watch it continue to wither away, Pierce County ought to let it go and get on with mourning the passing of a fine institution.