A bill that would force Pierce County to conduct its elections entirely by mail has cleared a key committee and could be up for a vote on the Senate floor next week.
Pierce County is the last county to allow residents to cast their votes at the polls.
The vast majority of registered voters who voted opted to do so by mail in this month’s special elections — just over 1 percent of voters showed up to polling locations while nearly 37 percent mailed their ballots in.
According to Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office, 90 percent of the ballots cast in each Pierce County election are absentee.
It costs $150,000 to run the polls for primary and general elections.
Pierce County auditor Julie Anderson want to go to an all-mail system. She says conducting elections with only absentee ballots saves money and takes care of the risks in error posed by overseeing 1,000 temporary workers.
And Anderson says the cost of running and staffing the polling sites could grow. She’s been told Pierce County may soon have to provide written and oral material in three languages at polling sites because of growing Hispanic and Korean populations.
“People might have a little sticker shock when we tell them how much it costs to operate polls in 2011,” Anderson said in a recent interview.
South Tacoma Democrat Rosa Franklin remains “adamantly opposed” to going to an all-mail system.
She points to legislation passed in 2005 that gave counties the choice to let voters cast their ballots at the polls.
“That is a reason why citizens, voters, don’t trust government,” Franklin said. “You say one thing and you do something else.”
The Pierce County Council supports keeping the polls open.
A similar house bill was considered last year, but died late in the session before receiving a vote on the Senate floor.