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At what cost should county keep poll voting?

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 16, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
December 22, 2009 2:23 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Pierce County is facing a hard-knocks budget that would send more people to the unemployment line, give thieves a freer reign and stymie efforts to ensure timely justice.

But poll voting will be spared.

That’s at least the County Council’s plan. The council last week adopted a budget that slashed 300 jobs, pulled sheriff’s deputies from the roads, raised parks and sewer fees and eliminated a Superior Court judgeship.

It also put a twist on County Executive Pat McCarthy’s recommendation to cut the $150,000 set aside for poll voting. The council took the money out of the auditor’s budget – and then forbade the auditor from closing a single polling place.

The message to the newly elected auditor, Julie Anderson: Find the money somewhere, just don’t mess with poll voters.

The council’s action assumes that there is fat still left in a department that has already offered up about $1 million in cuts. Perhaps there is. County budget writers are having to pull out all the stops to absorb a 7 percent drop in county revenue.

But the question is, if the auditor’s office can trim an additional $150,000, is poll voting the best place to spend it?

The council is obviously convinced it is. Poll voters are vocal, and they vote regularly – a potent combination. But at what cost should the county preserve the state’s last polling sites?

Last May – when the county’s financial picture was less acute – Auditor Jan Shabro recommended the County Council suspend poll voting, calling it “simply the prudent thing to do.”

Shabro made her assessment based on projections that 5,000 voters would show up at polls for the August primary and 20,000 for the November general. As it turns out, poll voting proved even less popular this year. Only 3,000 voters cast their ballots at polls in August, and 17,500 earlier this month.

We’re as sad as anyone to see poll voting go. But with only 4 percent of registered voters opting to cast their ballots at the local school or church, poll voting is simply no longer the integral part of the elections process that it once was.

If the council is truly persuaded that the auditor’s office can give up another $150,000, that money should go toward keeping a sheriff’s deputy on the street or a courtroom open.

Keeping tradition on life support ranks as an expendable luxury when real public safety and criminal justice needs are at risk.

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