We are all absentee nowApril 5th, 2011 by Steven Gardner
The Washington Secretary of State’s office sent out notice today that Washington is officially a vote-by-mail state everywhere. This changes nothing here, or almost anywhere. Pierce County was the only place allowing voters to show up at polls. That ends now.
Following is the Secretary of State’s notice, which offers some history into Washington’s vote-by mail program.
FYI: Washington has become the second state in America — after Oregon — to move to conducting all elections by mail.
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 5124, requiring all counties to use the popular vote-by-mail system. As a practical matter, it won’t be a change for most voters, since 98 percent of the statewide vote is now conducted by mail. It will, however, mean that Pierce County, the lone holdout, will need to end use of polling places.
Vote-by-mail gained traction incrementally in Washington. In 1993, the Legislature authorized voters to sign up for permanent absentee voting, meaning a ballot would be sent out automatically for each election. Well over half of the electorate eventually signed up. That same year, a new law authorized nonpartisan primary elections to be handled by mail.
In 2005, six years ago, counties were allowed to decide whether to switch to all vote-by-mail, with the decision to be made by the County Auditor and the County Commission or Council. Counties soon signed up, with some also holding public advisory votes. King, representing 1 voter in 3, was the last major county to switch. That left Pierce as the lone outlier; the County Executive and Auditor supported the change, the County Council did not.
For several sessions, the Legislature declined to mandate that Pierce join the rest of the state, citing the state’s tradition of local control. As more and more Pierce voters themselves switched and as the participation rate for pollsite voters lagged and the price tag rose, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Auditor Julie Anderson, Executive Pat McCarthy, County Auditors and others again turned to Olympia for help. Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill and it passed both chambers.
The governor was joined at a bill-signing ceremony by White, Reed and three auditors (Kris Swanson of Cowlitz, Marianne Nichols of Pend Oreille and Kim Wyman of Thurston).
Reed said later that he was pleased that the state is now all vote-by-mail and predicted that the system will spread to other states, particularly in Western states that already have permanent absentee voting as an option.
“Vote-by-mail has been very successful in Washington, including in Pierce County. It simplifies things for the voter and for the election administrators not to have two parallel methods of voting. It is less expensive and I believe it boosts voter participation. Even before counties started switching, many voters themselves decided that this is the way they prefer to vote, over a period of several weeks, in the privacy and convenience of their own homes.”