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Better chance this time for vote-by-mail, supporters say

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
January 12, 2011 4:11 pm

Olympia Rep. Sam Hunt says he thinks the odds are better this year for his renewed attempt to make the whole state vote by mail. Elections officials in Secretary of State Sam Reed‘s office, too, are optimistic the effort will succeed.

The practical effects of an all-mail switch would be felt only in Pierce County. The other 38 counties in the state already vote entirely by mail, while Pierce County hangs on to polling places for the minority of voters who don’t want to mail their ballots.

In November, roughly 29,000 votes came from poll sites, nearly 11 percent of those cast in the county.

Tacoma freshman Reps. Connie Ladenburg and Laurie Jinkins have signed on to Hunt’s bill, and several other House Democrats support the idea. Past all-mail bills have cruised through the House but gotten bottled up in the Senate.

Last year, a bill by Hunt made it out of a key Senate committee but was blocked after objections from Pierce County senators including Democratic Sen. Rosa Franklin.

Sen. Steve Conway, a Tacoma Democrat who replaced the retiring Franklin, said he would oppose it, but said it’s too soon to say if he would try to keep it from coming to a vote.

“To me, our county will come to this decision on their own like all the other counties have,” Conway said. “When we’re the only county that hasn’t chosen this, I don’t really appreciate a bill trying to mandate it.”

Pierce County’s top elections official wants her county to join the rest. County Auditor Julie Anderson testified today in support of Hunt’s bill.

Anderson mainly points to the low turnout. But she reminded lawmakers poll sites also cost money. Eliminating them for the 2012 elections would save at least $80,000, she said, and that doesn’t count upcoming costs of hiring translators at polling places.

The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to require Pierce County to provide Spanish and possibly Korean speakers in 2012, she said. “Implementing that in a presidential election year is going to be a major challenge, especially if we’re the only county doing it and we’re doing it alone,” she told legislators.

The County Council, of course, has authority to switch the county to all-mail voting. But the Republican-led council has supported polling places in the past.

Republican Reed said remaining poll voters get confused when they see messages on Seattle television stations reminding them to check their mail for their ballots.

“People are not voting, because they don’t understand it,” he said.

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