Opinion

All-mail elections raise lots of questions

Before the dust has had time to settle after the gubernatorial election contest, Kitsap County’s Commissioners may have directed that all future elections be conducted through the mail.

Such a change would only be noticed on election day by the few of us who prefer to insert our ballots directly into the ballot box.  Most voters in Kitsap County already vote by mail, typically by requesting permanent absentee voter status.

Would it be too much to ask that our commissioners determine what they intend to accomplish, then check back later to see if things turned out the way they planned?

If the move to all-mail voting is intended to reduce the cost of conducting elections, will the commissioners examine what happens to see if the cost is less?

In Pierce County, the auditor reportedly believes that all-mail voting would cost more than the county’s current system in which about one out of five voters cast their ballots at polling places.  Is she wrong?

Which costs more: sorting mail ballots at some stage of the vote counting process, or having the voters do the sorting for you by going to their precinct polling places?

Is it less costly to examine each ballot envelope to determine whether the ballot was cast by election day than it does to run polling places on election day?

Ballots cast by mail require verification of voters’ signatures by comparing them to signatures in voter registration records, which means at least one person must take the time to examine each ballot envelope.

When the signatures are not thought to match, typically another person compares them to be sure before rejecting the ballot.

Does the Kitsap County Auditor already have enough personnel to accomplish the required signature verifications for 30 percent more mailed ballots, or would there need to be additional temporary employees with less experience to do the job?

If a ballot is rejected based on a difference in the signatures, the voter must be contacted to offer an opportunity to provide a current signature for comparison – just to be sure the voter’s signature hasn’t simply changed since the original voter registration application was signed.

When a more current signature is submitted, another comparison is made to determine whether the ballot should be accepted as valid.

Maybe that processing actually requires fewer personnel to do an adequate job than it takes to staff polling places, but wouldn’t it be wise to see whether this belief is correct?

How many sites in the county will be available to ensure that voters whose ballots did not arrive in the mail by election day can obtain and cast a provisional ballot? 

To how many places will voters be able to go and cast their ballots personally, rather than relying on the mail system to get them in on time?

While it seems obvious that far fewer polling places would be needed, would the reduced cost offset the increased expense of an all-mail election?

The popularity of voting by mail seems clear, since so many of our citizens choose permanent absentee voter status; so has past experience shown that there would be little if any inconvenience for voters who need to obtain a ballot on election day?

It has been said that conducting an election involving both mail ballots and polling place ballots is more complicated, so it would be better to change to all-mail voting.

Perhaps King County is a special case, but it appears that they were unable to accomplish the most basic tasks to ensure that they had accurately counted the votes on legally cast absentee ballots.  And, there’s nothing to indicate that any complexity resulting from election day polling places caused their absentee ballot discrepancies.

How would Kitsap County determine whether the expected simplicity has resulted in a more accurate vote count?

The legislature amended the laws to provide for a reconciliation report to the public 30 days after the election, but that is an empty gesture if the same reconciliation report isn’t presented to the canvassing board before they certify the county’s vote totals.

Are we to wait until 30 days after each election to find out whether there was a material discrepancy, or can we expect a bona fide reconciliation of the numbers of ballots known to have been cast by identifiable voters and the ballots sent through the vote tabulation system?

If better accuracy is intended, there needs to be a way to determine whether it happened – and to know before the results are certified.

Doubts about the wisdom of voting by mail probably won’t have any effect on the county’s decision.  The risk of corruption is greater, but we seem to have long ago decided that it isn’t worth worrying about.

So worries about corruption are set aside, but could we at least try to determine whether the intended efficiency and accuracy actually happen and change course if they do not?

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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