Washington rightly prides itself for embracing new ideas so it can run clean, secure and accurate elections, but we are always on the outlook for fresh reforms and improvements. As our 2013 Legislature takes up a variety of proposals, new research from the Pew Charitable Trusts can help our state find solid, researchbased information to make sound decisions.
Called the Elections Performance Index, the online tool allows Washington policymakers and voters to see how our state fares on a number of crucial measures, including how we compare with others. Being a competitive person, of course I wanted Washington to rank No. 1, but I was still pleased that we ranked second in 2010 among all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Credibility is the key to building our citizens belief in the democratic process, and the new index can play a helpful role in that regard. It also can help illuminate the dialogue about ways to improve our balloting and help us all move beyond partisan debate. My office and the county auditors of Washington plan to be active participants as we work together to enhance and improve election administration in this state.
We are committed to making sure that every valid vote gets counted in the same way across the state, and thus carries the same weight in the ultimate outcome. Every voter needs to know that the process is fair, whether the ballot was cast by an aerospace engineer, longshoreman, a climbing guide catching up on the news at Mount Rainier base camp or a barista brewing the morning java.
In many ways, Washington has helped lead the way on election reform, including the use of technology. For example, the decision by voters and the counties to shift to all mail-in ballots foreshadowed the costsaving moves later adopted by other Western states such as California and Colorado. The new index reflects that progress, as it reveals exceptionally high voter participation in the Evergreen State and good access for disabled citizens one of many benefits flowing from our states use of mail-in ballots.
In addition, state and local election offices provide 97 percent of the voters information that is pivotal to keeping voters well informed up from 89 percent just a few years ago.
This year, state lawmakers again introduced measures they believe could better Washingtons elections. In the past, discussions have sometimes mired down in partisan fights, with each side focusing on certain data points to prove their arguments. This excellent interactive tool provides pertinent information we all can keep in mind as reforms are developed.
It turns out that like our famous geoducks, digging deep yields better results. For example, superficially Washington might be criticized for disallowing sameday registration, but since our elections are conducted entirely by mail, efforts to eliminate such restrictions could delay meaningful release of election results.
The Elections Performance Index will help us and the other states have solid, fact-based dialogue on tough questions when further changes are proposed regarding future elections. A reallife geological fault lies off our west coast, but a political one neednt separate policy makers.
The new online tool could point to real solutions that serve our state and the entire country, focusing on concerns crucial to both sides of the aisle such as accessibility, fraud prevention and the integrity of the election process. I believe this research changes the discussion and will help states develop sensible and helpful improvements that will build voter confidence.
Kim Wyman, Washingtons 15th secretary of state, has spent more than 20 years in election administration and is active in national reform efforts.