Opinion

Take your pick, convenience or credibility

Having gone to absentee ballots many years ago, in the days when you had to provide a written request and reason why you would be absent from your polling place on election day, I have been among the supporters for all-mail voting — i.e., voting exclusively by mail in all elections, primary and general, instead of doing it occasionally on one-issue measures, such as school levies, in the off season.

According to the letter I received from the Kitsap County Auditor, Kitsap is joining 28 other Washington counties and the state of Oregon in becoming a vote-by-mail jurisdiction. King County is considering it.

But I was taken aback at noting among the opponents a man whose opinion I have held in high regard for many years, since his days in the state House, where he was the Republicans’ budget whiz, Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

You’ve heard of him, of course. He’s the guy who tries to keep the Washington Education Association honest in its spending of members’ dues to elect Democrats to office.

When I managed to make connections with him, he was in Texas, the reason for which will be explained a little later on.

How come, I asked, you’re against all-mail voting?

“We are trading convenience for ballot security,” he said. “The big problem with vote-by-mail is the wide-open opportunity for vote fraud. It’s so easy to do. You don’t know who is voting.”

It’s a big problem in England, he said, where three councilmen were recently thrown out of office on account of it. “On some of the rural routes, some people followed the mail trucks and picked up the blank ballots and voted them.”

Here, said Williams, “they don’t do a good job of verifying signatures on absentee ballots versus the signatures on the voting file. We can run into a lot of trouble with unions, with voter intimidation. A union can say bring your absentee ballots into union hall, we are all going to vote today.”

In past elections, he said, there were organized voter drives in extended-care facilities. “We (Evergreen Freedom Foundation) turned some information over to the FBI, but they haven’t done anything. They had them in Western and Eastern State Hospitals. We don’t know who is voting on those ballots.”

One interesting thing, said Williams, “the Century Fund, a very liberal group nationwide, put out recommendations on how to make it easy to vote, and they say put a hold on going more to vote-by-mail until we address some of these conditions. So the left and the right agree there’s a real problem with vote by mail.

“The main thing we have to do is restore the integrity of the ballot,” he said, “which they don’t want to do. Election officials want vote-by-mail because the problems will not be visible. They’ll all be in-house. The first bill signed by (President) Clinton was the Motor Voter Act (taking voter registrations with driver license applications). That’s the problem. Now we have all these non-citizens voting.”

There’s good news, however, in Texas, where Williams is attending the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which draws legislators from all over the country. They are setting up a subcommittee on voter integrity and Williams is a member.

What do you think, I asked, of what’s being done in a few places, of having a few walk-in voting precincts in various areas for people who want to vote in person?

“Voting in person is not going to restore the integrity of the election when you have people voting who shouldn’t be voting, and they are not accurately counting the ballots,” he said. “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic may look good, and sound good, but we are heading for disaster.”

Well, I agree we are rushing into this without much public discussion of any pitfalls. It may take a couple of elections with Gregoire-type victories to find out we went wrong.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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