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thrice all american: Olympia Trying to Kill Pierce County Polling Places
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Olympia Trying to Kill Pierce County Polling Places

· Posted Thursday January 31, 2008 by jamie

Last fall, there was much speculation that Pierce County was holding its last-ever election with polling places, and that shortly thereafter we would move to all-mail voting. Amidst this activity, several bloggers, including Jenny from ZestyEnterprises.com, TacomaChickadee, and TacomaMama chimed in with their fondness for poll voting, and many others, including myself, agreed in the comments. There is a certain magic to going to the polling place, talking to the older folks that run them, and exercising your constitutional right in the local school, church, or community hall, and the fact that many relatively young bloggers were waxing poetic about it showed that poll voting isn’t just for the old-fashioned. And aside from the tradition of the act, allowing both poll voting and mail-in voting helps to keep voting as accessible as possible to the population. (Even better for enfranchisement would be election day registration, but that’s a whole different topic…)

Thankfully, the County Council stepped in, and, against the wishes of Auditor Pat McCarthy, voted to keep polling places open. Despite the merit of questions raised by McCarthy about some of the open meetings procedures exercised by the council leading up to this decision, this vote was without a doubt the right decision to defend the voting rights of Pierce County citizens.

But if you thought it was over, think again. An opinion piece in today’s Trib discusses the introduction of House Bill 2833 in the state legislature, which, among other things, would force Pierce County to immediately switch to all-mail voting. (King County, having more than 500,000 registered voters, would have until 2009 to phase out their polling sites.) Sponsored by four legislators, none of whom represent Pierce County, the bill states that the all-mail voting provisions are “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions”.

I think it speaks volumes that none of the bill’s sponsors are from Pierce County. The County Council vote shows that our council listened to its constituents and the consensus was that the people of Pierce County want to be able to vote at the polls. And I would argue that preserving my effective “support of state government” would require that I continue to be able to vote in a way that I feel is effective, secure, and inclusive.

One of the things that fascinates me most about the bill is that all four sponsors are Democrats. Traditionally, Democrats tend to fare better in elections where barriers to voting are low. From what I understand (though I have no sources to cite), prior to counties moving to all-mail voting, mail voting registrations were disproportionately Republican voters as compared to the general voting populace. I would rather see the Democrats at the state level working towards keeping polling places open, working towards offering election day registration, working towards making sure that every citizen who meets the legal requirements exercises their right to cast a ballot on election day, whether by mail or in person.

So go here, find your legislator and write them a letter, telling them that you demand the right to vote in person. Write a letter to the editor. Let’s protect our voting rights, people!

(Image via theocean@flickr)


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  1. Jamie,

    I’d like to clarify on the situation in Pierce County.

    About 2 years ago, the county council approached Auditor McCarthy and asked to go to vote by mail. She held her ground and said ‘no’.

    This last fall, seeing the large variety of ballots for some locations, the Auditor believed that vote by mail would be an option to explore, and asked the county council to move to all vote by mail. This time they said no.

    So it’s gone back and forth … it’s a tough call and a tough decision to change, and there are good arguments on both sides of the coin.

    NEAL    Jan 31, 10:17 AM    #
  2. Thanks NEAL, I appreciate the clarification!

    jamie    Jan 31, 10:22 AM    #
  3. I would argue that it’s silly for 1 county out of 39 to remain non-vote-by-mail (King goes soon). Oregon’s been VBM for years now and I think their partipation levels are up (they’re hardly a bastion of conservatism).
    Some rituals go away while others take their place. If you yearn to see your neighbors, there’s always church, your local co-op, etc.

    — Mark    Feb 1, 07:42 PM    #
  4. If all other 38 counties jumped off a bridge…

    I don’t see how the voting system in other counties should have any bearing on the voting system in Pierce County. We run our own elections bureau here, so it really is just a single county issue.

    jamie    Feb 4, 11:27 AM    #
  5. In Oregon, they did it at the state level.

    To have the entire state vote-by-mail, it’s more efficient for consistency in reporting returns. The county essentially won’t be running two elections at once (mail and polling place) which save time and money. There’s more than just “a bridge” involved here.

    — Mark    Feb 12, 07:49 PM    #