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Elections expert offers advice on voting

The time has come for you to exercise one of your most important duties as a citizen of the United States of America: voting. When I served as an election observer in Uganda’s first democratic election and Russia’s first local level elections, I gained insight into how privileged we are to live in a mature democracy.

Since I served for a couple decades as Thurston County auditor and for 12 years as your secretary of state, I learned a whole lot about elections. I’m glad to share some of that knowledge and expertise with you.

Your first step should be to go to the secretary of state’s website, sos.wa.gov. Click on “Elections & Voting” on the left-hand side. When you get into the elections page, click on MyVote on the bottom right hand side. Enter your name and birthdate. Then you will get voter information specifically for you. It provides you information on your elected officials, a voters’ guide, your ballot, sites of ballot drop-off boxes in your geographical area and more. This is the most complete voters’ information site in the nation. Use it.

Now that you know the races and issues you will be voting on, take time to seriously inform yourself. The Voters’ Pamphlet explanations and statements are a good starting point. Also, go the websites of the candidates and issues — both pro and con. It is often valuable to call somebody who has particular knowledge regarding certain races or issues — for example, an attorney regarding judicial races.

Treat this like a hiring experience, because that is what it is. The people get to choose who to hire for their public leaders. So, like any good manager, you are going to look at their resumes for knowledge and experience relative to the position. You will want to look at the priorities that they express on their voters’ pamphlet statements and on their websites. In a hiring decision, you also want to look at a person’s character. Can this person be trusted? Does this person have good judgment? Also, when you hire somebody, you are going to want to know what she or he has accomplished in office (for an incumbent) or previous positions.

I counsel you to not overreact to some current red-hot issue. These kinds of issues often are irrelevant in a few months. Instead, use a big picture perspective. Also, don’t pay any attention to the barrage of negative ads funded by independent expenditures. They tend to be incredibly misleading and are characterized by untruths and distortions.

As county auditor and secretary of state, I found Washington voters want to “vote for the person, not the party.” Straight-ticket voting is very rare in our state. Washingtonians pride themselves in crossing over and voting for people of different political parties for different offices. I experienced this throughout my career. In my last election in 2008, for example, President Barack Obama won by a landslide 17 percent. Gov. Christine Gregoire had a solid victory. They are Democrats. On the other hand, Attorney General Rob McKenna and I won our races by almost 20 percent. We’re Republicans. Don’t hesitate to split your ticket.

I strongly encourage you to vote your entire ballot. While the presidential race gets most of the publicity, it’s the statewide, legislative, county commissioner and judgeship races that directly affect you and your family. It takes more time and research, but they are extremely important.

Finally, I urge you to vote early. One advantage for you is that the mailings and phone calls will stop. Campaigns check on who has voted and who has not voted. More important, this assures that your ballot will arrive on time to be counted. I was saddened by the number of ballots that arrived with late postmarks and, therefore, couldn’t be counted.

If you procrastinate until the day before or the day of the election to vote, use a drop box. Don’t put it in the mail and risk getting a late postmark.

We’ll all be exceedlingly relieved when this election is over. You will feel better about it if you have been diligent and conscientious in helping select your governmental leadership.

Good luck!

Sam Reed served three terms as secretary of state and more than 20 years as Thurston County auditor. He is a member of The Olympian’s 2016 Board of Contributors.

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