Hitch won't halt all-mail voting plan
King County officials still plan to conduct the 2008 presidential election by mail even though one of the tools they expected to use doesn't...
Seattle Times staff reporter
King County officials still plan to conduct the 2008 presidential election by mail even though one of the tools they expected to use doesn't yet exist.
Metropolitan King County Council members decided Monday to move ahead with all-mail voting, after Elections Director Sherril Huff said her staff could do the job without the "automated signature verification" software that would have speeded up the processing of up to 1 million mail ballots.
Council staffer Nick Wagner said Monday the software "does not yet exist" and probably won't exist by early 2008. Automatic signature checking has been used for years in the banking industry but not in elections.
The council's committee-of-the-whole supported paying Pitney Bowes $1.3 million and VoteHere $300,000 to speed up the handling of mail ballots and give voters timely information on the fate of their ballots.
The bad news about signature-verification technology added one more complication to the county's move to vote-by-mail elections. Election officials have proposed replacing aging Diebold mail-ballot tabulators with new ones that haven't yet been certified by the federal and state governments.
Huff said the county can meet its goal of mail balloting in 2008.
"It is both a good goal and an achievable goal," she said, "if we get a decision now, get the equipment on board and get the testing and the training done. It would have been nice if we were farther ahead in that process. There are a number of questions that need to be answered."
The council has yet to appropriate money for equipment for all-mail voting.
Bill Huennekens, the former elections superintendent who is managing the transition to mail voting, said the change may increase the number of mail ballots by 300,000 — about the entire vote count for Pierce and Snohomish counties.
Without automated signature verification, the county would hire more temporary workers to compare signatures on ballots with signatures on file, Huff said.
Wagner said in a report to the council that elections staff "continues to deny that there is reason for concern" about moving to a new building, switching to mail voting, installing ballot-tracking software, and using tabulators and signature-verification software not used in any previous election, all in one year.
"Gosh," said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, R-Redmond, "any one of those seems like a recipe for disaster. Putting them together is frightening."
Councilmember Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, said later, "If they reassure us and tell us they can accomplish it, I think we have to trust that those professionals' judgment is good."
Also Monday, the council passed a motion blocking use of bar codes or other identifying marks on voters' ballots.
The motion clarifies the council's 2006 vote authorizing all-mail ballots. That earlier measure called for elections officials to track mail-ballot envelopes so voters will know whether their ballots have been received by the elections office and approved as valid to be counted.
Councilmember Dow Constantine, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of the new motion, said it was intended to protect voters' right to a secret ballot while providing them with information about the fate of their ballot.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A majority of King County Councilmembers in the committee-of-the-whole Monday supported purchasing $1.6 million in hardware and software to expedite and track mail ballots, but did not take formal action. An article July 10, 2007 incorrectly said the purchase had been approved by the committee. A vote is tentatively scheduled for July 30. This correction was made on July 11, 2007. Several counties, including Los Angeles, verify mail voters' signatures automatically with software from Diebold Election Systems. Pitney Bowes, the company from which King County Election officials propose to buy new ballot-tracking equipment, has not yet developed signature-checking software. The original version of the story erroneously stated that automated signature verification doesn't yet exist for use in elections. It was corrected July 17, 2007.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.