Opinion

Clark spot on with respect to mail-in voting

This isn’t an endorsement of a candidate, since the Independent makes it a policy not to endorse politicians.

But we do endorse ideas, and since John Clark, who’s running for the post of Kitsap County auditor, last week sounded one the themes we’ve opined about on numerous occasions, we have to agree with him if only to be consistent.

In fairness, Clark’s remarks at the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues candidate forum were hardly the first time he had been critical of the county’s decision to fully embrace mail-in elections rather than traditional polling places. Actually, the idea has been perhaps the single most important plank in Clark’s platform since he announced his candidacy last spring.

And it’s something we agree with on principle.

“He wants to go back to poll-site voting,” said interim Auditor Walt Washington of his Republican opponent’s stance. “This is a tremendous expense. I don’t know how he would get that past the county commissioners and into the budget. He wants to take us back, into a regressive position.”

Polls are regressive?

As opposed to what? The potential for massive election irregularities, such as we witnessed during the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election, when Republican Dino Rossi eked out a narrow victory over Democrat Christine Gregoire on election night and remained in the lead after the mandated recount, only to fall behind when overwhelmingly Democratic King County kept miraculously finding stacks of as-yet-uncounted mail-in ballots?

Had the election been conducted entirely — or at least primarily — using polls, where ballots are collected and often tabulated on the spot, instead of relyong on so many mail-in ballots, the results could have been calculated to within a statistically insignificant margin for error the first time, and the voters could have had complete confidence in the accuracy of subsequent recounts no matter which candidate they favored.

Instead, there will always be lingering suspicions that King County kept stuffing the ballot box until its preferred candidate racked up enough votes to put her over the top.

It certainly doesn’t help Washington’s credibility in backing the all-mail system currently being employed in Kitsap that he was an elections official in King County back in 2004.

For his part, Washington cites the expense of operating and manning polling places as a sound reason to abolish the practice.

To which Clark counters, “I realize we have to cut the budget, but to do it at the expense of the democratic process is wrong.”

While no one is suggesting there is currently an honesty problem in the Kitsap County elections office, we are suggesting that the King County experience demonstrates the potential for mischief or mistakes will always exist as long as we’re relying on paper ballots being mailed in from countless mailboxes throughout the region to one central location, where they must be stored, handled and tabulated by fallible human beings.

As Clark notes, the mail-in ballot option should obviously be available to those who will be out of town on election day or otherwise unable to visit the polling place in person. But the polls should be the default voting method.

Is doing things the old-fashioned way less convenient? Perhaps, but neither convenience nor cost (within reason) should be the determining factor in this case.

Kitsap County’s elections regulations should first and foremost have at their core the goal of obtaining the most accurate and reliable results possible.

And no one who witnessed the King County shenanigans in 2004 — as Walt Washington did first-hand — could argue with a straight face that mail-in elections can promise that.

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