Governor should sign mail voting bill

April 4, 2011 

Gov. Chris Gregoire must sign Senate Bill 5124 into law and formally end poll site voting in Washington state.

Pierce County is the lone holdout. Every other county switched from poll sites to vote-by-mail a long time ago. Thurston County, for example, made the change in 2005.

At that time, about 90 percent of the ballots returned each election came through the mail, according to Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman. Only a small number of voters preferred to go to the polls on Election Day – mostly out of tradition and the sense of community created while standing in line and visiting with neighbors.

When Thurston County made the switch, 65 percent of the voters were already registered to receive ballots via the mail. They returned their ballots in far greater proportion than voters who were still listed on the registry for poll sites.

The result, Wyman said, has been less expensive elections, greater voter turnout and more consistent election procedures because everyone receives the same ballot at the same time.

“It was absolutely the right decision,” Wyman says.

And it’s absolutely the right decision to bring Pierce County — the last holdout — into the fold.

Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who has sought for years to move the state to all-mail balloting, said it was needed “to bring our system into uniformity, to increase voter turnout and actually to save elections costs in Pierce County.”

Just more than 10,000 Pierce County voters cast ballots at the polls in August at a cost of $16.97 per vote, County Auditor Julie Anderson says, compared with 135,000 votes cast by mail at a cost of $6.88 per ballot.

While it’s easy to bemoan the end of poll site voting, bringing all 39 counties under one voting standard makes sense. It makes sense financially, administratively and, most important, in terms of voter participation.

Gov. Gregoire should sign Senate Bill 5124 into law.

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