Polling places are officially a thing of the past in Pierce County.
Under Senate Bill 5124, which Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Tuesday, Washington will move to an entirely vote-by-mail system, a move supporters say will add clarity to state law and save money, but opponents say robs Pierce County of its right to choose in-person voting.
“It’s a good day,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, who has sponsored legislation to move Washington to an entirely vote-by-mail system every year since 2008. “This will give us one uniform voting system in the state.”
The bill, which goes into effect in July, replaces a 2005 law that allowed Washington counties to choose to vote by mail or offer both mail-in ballots and polling places. Pierce County is the only one that held on to polling places until now.
Pierce County auditor Julie Anderson said the new law means voters in the county will vote entirely by mail for the first time this fall, and they’ll receive notifications in the mail about how the new system will work soon.
All in all, though, Anderson said it isn’t a big change for the county because 89 percent of ballots cast in Pierce County in the 2010 election were mailed in.
“It’s a nice confirmation of what is already in effect,” said Anderson.
The Pierce County Council has resisted proposals to shift to all-mail voting in the past, though, and Roger Bush, the council chairman, was disappointed with the Legislature’s decision to pass the bill.
His assistant, Karen Castillo, said Bush was unavailable for comment, but he left a statement with her saying that he thought it was hypocritical of democratic state legislators preach free choice and then take it away because Pierce County decided to keep a system they didn’t like.
Castillo said, though, that Bush was glad the proposal would save about $80,000 for the county in the coming year, and he hoped to put that money toward park maintenance.
To help people transition to the new system, Anderson said her office was planning to set up about five voting service centers throughout the county where people could come to get replacement ballots or drop their ballots off in person. She said she hasn’t decided yet where the centers will be located.
Washington will be the second state in the nation to adopt an all vote-by-mail system. Oregon did so in 1998.