The Washington state Senate voted 26-23 Friday night to make mail-in ballots the standard throughout the state.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, would include Pierce County in the requirement that all elections statewide be conducted entirely by mail. Pierce County is currently the only hold-out - allowing both mail and poll voting.
The secretary of state's office requested the bill to eliminate the confusion caused by maintaining both poll voting and mail-in ballots.
"This bill creates one system - it tightens it up a lot and makes it safer," said Sen. Dan Swecker, D-Rochester. The law as it currently stands allows for a lot of inconsistency, he said, because of the way it has been changed and adopted over time.
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Several senators offered impassioned speeches against the measure, saying their constituents see going to the polls as essential to participating in the political process.
They argued that poll voting is a community event and any decision to change that should rest with individual counties.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said this bill would "strong-arm" Pierce County into going along with what the Legislature has decided is right. She said her constituents have frequently asked her to keep poll voting because of the camaraderie that springs up at polling centers, and because it lets voters feel connected to the voting process.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, also opposed the bill, arguing that voters elect county commissioners to make the decisions that affect them at a local level, and asking what local control the Legislature was planning on taking next.
"I don't understand what's wrong with having the one county left that would like to have poll voting," he said. "Let each decide what's best in their local community."
But supporters countered with numbers.
Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said that 82 percent of voters in Pierce County already use mail-in voting.
"I believe in trying to encourage voter turnout," he said.
Mail-in ballots have a much higher voter turnout than poll voting, he said, and cost the state less to process.
The bill now moves to the House.
White's bill is SSB 5124.