Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat and chairman of the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, has long had the state’s remaining polling places in his sights.
Twice he has passed a bill in the House to end all polling place voting and shift all state voters to mail-only voting. Twice the bill has failed in the Senate. Since he began his quest, all counties except Pierce have opted to go all-mail on their own. So now his House Bill 1002, the third bill filed for the 2011 session, would effect only the 29,000 or so voters in the state’s second-largest county who still chose to vote at the polls.
The bill is lengthy because it must make changes to election-related verbiage throughout state law. For example, it would change every reference to “absentee” ballots to “mail” ballots and all references to “polling places” to “voting centers.” Those are the locations scattered around vote-by-mail counties where disabled voters can access special voting equipment and where voters can cast provisional ballots.
It also changes the time when votes can start being counted from “the closing of polls” to “8 p.m. on election day.” (Although it is a puzzle why 8 p.m. is still a magic hour if there are no polls to close. Ballots can still be cast up until midnight if the voter can find a post office that will postmark it).
But the net effect is to force Pierce to close its remaining polls.
Hunt, as well as Secretary of State Sam Reed, thinks the time has come for consistency in statewide voting. But that reverses the policy that each county could decide how it votes. While all other counties have shifted to all-mail, the Republican-controlled Pierce County Council has so far thwarted County Executive Pat McCarthy‘s wish to close the polls completely.
That Pierce still has some polls open does not effect the state at all. Any extra costs are borne by the county, not the state. And the poll votes are usually counted long before the final mailed ballots are counted so Pierce doesn’t contribute to any delays. And the presence of poll voting does not limit in any way the ability of other county voters to vote by mail.
One political change in Olympia gives Hunt a better chance this next session. Both of the senators who were protective of Pierce County’s local choice – Darlene Fairley of Lake Forest Park and Eric Oemig of Kirkland – are gone. Fairley retired and Oemig was defeated for re-election.