In an about-face, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman has decided to print a full run of the county’s voter pamphlets and mail them in the primary and general elections.
It’s the right decision.
Wyman earlier said she was going to drastically scale back plans for the voter guide in order to meet county budget reductions ordered by the county commissioners. Instead of automatically receiving a guide in the mail, voters were going to have to take responsibility for getting the information on their own – whether it was clicking on the auditor’s Web site or picking up a copy from a local fire station, school or city hall.
That would have forced voters to shoulder the burden of educating themselves about the candidates and issues on the primary and general election ballots. It reversed a long-standing policy in Thurston County to give voters as much information as possible to help them cast informed ballots.
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In this economic climate, it was difficult to criticize Wyman for her plan to cut the press run to an estimated 20,000 for the primary election.
She expected to save taxpayers between $40,000 and $50,000 by not printing or mailing a copy to every household in Thurston County.
Interestingly enough, most of the opposition to Wyman’s cost-saving move came from fellow elected officials and candidates. Members of the public told her they understood the need to save money.
Wyman’s office was facing a $411,000 reduction from its $5.3 million general operating budget. Elections are a big part of the budget and there’s not a lot of discretionary spending or wiggle room. The pamphlets became an easy target. Rather than eliminate them, Wyman said, she opted to go with the scaled-back version because “for many people, I think it has value.”
She’s right. Many voters rely on the pamphlets for basic information about both candidates and issues they’ll face when they open their mail-in ballot.
In the scaled-back plan, Wyman and her staff were going to distribute the pamphlets to as many public places as possible – schools, libraries, fire stations, city halls – in addition to mailing copies to voters upon request.
She was encouraging younger voters, many of whom rely on the Internet for much of their information, to get their election information from the auditor’s Web site (www.co.thurston.wa.us/auditor).
Wyman planned to distribute pamphlets to Panorama City, Jubilee, retirement homes, assisted living centers, nursing homes, senior citizen centers and other places where the elderly gather.
Then a funny thing happened.
Wyman got out in the community and the decision that sounded so good “in-house” suddenly was tough to defend. The more individuals and groups she talked to, the more Wyman came to the realization that she had made a mistake.
“I got good feedback from the community,” she said. “It verified for me that the voters pamphlet is a worthwhile thing and that people do use it and value it. Restoring the voters pamphlet is the right thing to do.”
Reversing her decision was made easier when the top managers in her office agreed to take furloughs and, in her own case, to pay a part of their medical benefit costs.
That will save $20,000 for the auditor’s office.
Secondly, the Legislature passed a law that eliminates the requirement that county auditors mail postcards to voters who are no longer active. Wyman and her staff crunched the numbers and determined the change in law will save her office about $25,000.
Between the $20,000 staff savings and the $25,000 in mailing expenses, Wyman was able to cover the costs of printing a voters pamphlet for both the primary and general elections.
She plans to print about 75,000 guides for the primary – enough to mail to every household with a contested race or issue on the ballot. She estimates the print run for the general election will be between 110,000 and 120,000, enough to mail to every household.
She plans to print the pamphlets in black and white, do the production in-house and scale back to the minimum number of pages.
It’s encouraging to see an elected official make the right decision based on public feedback. The real winners, of course, will be the voters who will have a voters pamphlet for the primary election in August and the general election in November.