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E-mail voting clears committee, has easier path through Legislature

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
January 12, 2011 3:05 pm

Elections officials and advocates for the military who want overseas Washingtonians to be able to vote by e-mail were thwarted last year, but now see an easier path to their goal.

Their proposal became the first bill filed this year, HB 1000, and today became one of the first to pass a committee vote when the House State Government Committee approved it unanimously.

But the problem was never the House, which passed it 96-0 last year. It was the Senate, where Sen. Eric Oemig blocked the bill, heeding the complaints of election-security advocates worried e-mail voting would lead to fraud.

Oemig lost on Nov. 2, and the opponents haven’t found a champion to pick up where he left off. Potentially unable to block the bill, they want a compromise that would allow an e-mailed ballot to be used only as a placeholder until a paper ballot is received.

That’s similar to what election officials allow now, but they don’t promote the method because it confuses voters to have to send a ballot twice, according to state elections co-director Katie Blinn, who said it makes the electronic transmission of ballots an “absolutely useless act.”

Whether or not this bill passes, military and other overseas voters can continue to request and obtain ballots via e-mail and then send them back by traditional mail.

Blinn’s boss, Secretary of State Sam Reed, said he knows of no opposition among senators this year, and Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, told the committee he has promises from the Senate that the bill won’t be blocked.

The issue is a big deal for Hurst because his son is on a third tour of Afghanistan and his unit can’t always send mail — but can always access the Internet, Hurst said.

Any potential for fraud, Hurst said, “is infinitesimal compared to denying the right (to vote) of a soldier, who, in my son’s case, the unit he was in had 69 soldiers killed.”

Seattle-based Voter Action and national group VerifiedVoting.org say in a letter to lawmakers, “It will be a long time before e-mail or any other form of Internet voting is reliable enough for America’s voters.”

UPDATED 3:05 p.m. with correction to reflect Blinn’s promotion to co-director of elections.

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