Board proposes June primaries
Washington state's primary would be moved to June and King County would switch to an all-mail election under preliminary recommendations...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington state's primary would be moved to June and King County would switch to an all-mail election under preliminary recommendations released yesterday by the King County Independent Task Force on Elections.
The group released seven recommendations that would make major changes in the way the state in general and King County in particular run elections.
Among the recommendations, which will be decided on at the group's final meeting July 27:
• Switch the date of the primary to the first Tuesday in June from today's mid-September date. "This will give more breathing room for elections administrators," said Suzanne Sinclair, head of elections in Island County and vice chairwoman of the county panel.
That could be a tough sell. The state House this year passed a bill that would have moved the primary to the third Tuesday in August, but the measure died in the state Senate.
State Elections Director Nick Handy, also on the panel, said it may be hard to persuade lawmakers to move the primary to June. "I think the third Tuesday in August is the best we're going to get," he said.
Part of the problem is the so-called "session freeze" rule, which bans legislators and state officials from fund raising from 30 days before the legislative session until 30 days after it ends. Secretary of State Sam Reed has proposed eliminating the post-session freeze, but it would require legislative action.
• Reduce the number of elections that can be held in the state from six to four per year. Handling six elections is hard for election workers, officials say.
In addition to the primary and general elections, school districts often use special elections to pass levies. If a levy fails, the districts can put the measure to voters again.
This year will include elections in February, March, April, May, September and November.
"The large number of potential elections creates problems ... ," the panel said in its report. "The situation results in almost nonstop campaigning in many communities."
The proposal, coupled with the change in the date of the primary, would allow elections in February, April, June and November. The change would require legislative approval.
• Simplify the process of restoring voting rights for former felons. The proposal would echo what happens in Oregon, where voting rights of former felons are automatically restored upon their release from jail or prison.
The issue of felon voters played a big role in the recent election challenge by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi when it was discovered that 1,700 former felons voted in the November election without having had their rights restored.
This would require a change in the state constitution and legislation.
"These 1,700 people would have been eligible to vote in most states," Handy said. "You can't have a more cumbersome process than Washington has."
• When a recount is necessary, have the state conduct only one and require that it be a manual one.
There's much debate over whether a machine or hand recount is more accurate, but the panel said because the governor's race was so close and the numbers changed after each recount, the public perception would have been better served by having just one manual recount.
"The longer it takes to determine the winner of a race, the more likely it is that the final outcome is neither reliable nor credible," the panel found.
• Require that all mail ballots be received by 8 on election night, except those mailed from out of state and from the military. Today the state requires only that ballots be postmarked by Election Day; that causes major delays in counting ballots.
The group found that Oregon, the first state to implement all-mail elections, found the requirement that ballots be received by Election Day greatly diminished public concerns that the election system was flawed or fraudulent.
While Reed recommended the change, the county auditors association is divided on the issue, with some members saying it is unfair to change a privilege — voting at polling places — that voters have had for 50 years.
• Switch King County to all-mail voting. Last November nearly two out of every three voters in King County voted by mail, and the task force said an all-mail election would simplify the counting process. Now the county essentially runs two elections, by mail and by polling place.
Polling places would be eliminated under the proposal, and the county would create four to six regional voting centers where voters could drop off their ballots. Ballot drop boxes also would be set up.
• During a recount, have two election observers stationed next to counting tables. In King County, observers were kept 20 feet from the stations in an area that was cordoned off. That contributed to perceptions that the procedure was intended to aid the Democratic candidate in the largely Democratic county and that the outcome of the recount was inaccurate and unfair.
Only King County had its observers in cordoned-off areas, Handy said. The task force recommended that the observers be seated next to the tables where the ballots are being counted.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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