Opinion

Viewpoint

"Thanks to The South Whidbey Record (Some residents forced to vote by mail, Aug. 4) for helping to inform the community about the vote-by-mail implementation. There are several precincts on South Whidbey and several in Oak Harbor that have been designated vote-by-mail. RCW 29.36.120 allows this process when a precinct has fewer than 200 active registered voters, not including permanent absentee voters. The county auditor may declare that the entire precinct will vote by mail.Let me tell you some of the factors in my decision:The trend toward mail voting. When I took office in November 1997, there were 7,739 absentee voters, or about 19 percent, compared to current registration. In 1998, the percentage had grown to 33 percent, and in November, 2000, it had reached 50.5 percent. The number of absentee voters has multiplied about two times in less than four years. The cost of operating a polling place. The costs of any election are wages, ballots, envelopes, postage, other supplies, rental of facilities, maintenance of equipment, and the capital investment in the ballot tabulation equipment and software. Each new VBM precinct will have added postage, envelopes, and wages (for processing the returned ballot,) but I can mail a ballot to the maximum number of new VBM voters, and process it when it is returned, for about 50 cents each, or $1,200. A precinct has three board workers on election day for 14 to 16 hours. Together they are paid about $308 for that day, so these 12 precincts cost about $3,696.00. This does not include any other election cost.Staffing the polling places. My staff is having increasing difficulty scheduling experienced workers and finding new people to train. The hours are long and often tedious because not many people vote during the day. They are wonderful public servants, but there are too few of them. Their ranks have been reduced by fewer stay-at-home parents, more snowbirds, and general attrition.Finding polling facilities. Schools are required to allow voting at their facilities, but the fact is that most schools don't want polling places. They are not unpatriotic, but they are short of classroom space, short of parking, and long on concerns about security. To them, elections mean a lot of cars blocking their driveways and strangers walking into their building. Facilities must meet ADA requirements. It's hard to find this in the older buildings that populate Island County. They must have restrooms available for the workers who are there for 14 or 16 hours. There must be parking. Hopefully, the building has a phone, but not all of them do. Workers bring their own cellphones, but the effectiveness depends on the location. Voter registration list maintenance. We are required to perform annual voter registration list maintenance procedures, which rely heavily on mailing to voters. Mailing ballots (which are not forwardable) to voters for an election satisfies this requirement, so we can a Changing to VBM for eligible precincts will allow us to use our current equipment more efficiently, and spare us the expense of purchasing more.Increased voter turnout. Perhaps the most important benefit will be increased voter turnout. Mail balloting produces about 85 percent turnout, as opposed to an average 65 percent for poll voters. People are reminded by the arrival of the ballot, and they have a larger window of opportunity to cast their ballot.Who pays the cost of elections? All tax dollars lead to the taxpayer, of course, but the cost of taxing district elections which comprise the odd-year elections is paid from the budgets of the towns, fire districts, port districts, and other smaller districts with small revenues. In even years, the cost is paid by Island County, not the state.My decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The factors listed above may not persuade you to like my decision, but I hope it will help you understand the reasons. Any properly completed and sealed mail ballot can be dropped off at any polling place, so if mailing your ballot seems too impersonal, please feel free to deliver it to the ballot box in the nearest polling place. All of the usual polling places will be open except there will be no workers for the VBM precincts. Thank you for your interest in your community and elections. We are all in this together.Suzanne Sinclair is the elected Island County Auditor. "

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