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Posts published in “Day: April 5, 2011”

Washington goes all vote-by-mail

Not a huge practical change for most voters, since nearly all have been voting by mail anyway in the last few elections.

But the vote-by-mail system hasn't been uniform across the state until now. Today, that changes, and Washington joins Oregon in that (we believe more advanced) system.

From a statement by Secretary of State Sam Reed:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 5124, requiring all counties to use the popular vote-by-mail system. As a practical matter, it won’t be a change for most voters, since 98 percent of the statewide vote is now conducted by mail. It will, however, mean that Pierce County, the lone holdout, will need to end use of polling places.

Vote-by-mail gained traction incrementally in Washington. In 1993, the Legislature authorized voters to sign up for permanent absentee voting, meaning a ballot would be sent out automatically for each election. Well over half of the electorate eventually signed up. That same year, a new law authorized nonpartisan primary elections to be handled by mail.

In 2005, six years ago, counties were allowed to decide whether to switch to all vote-by-mail, with the decision to be made by the County Auditor and the County Commission or Council. Counties soon signed up, with some also holding public advisory votes. King, representing 1 voter in 3, was the last major county to switch. That left Pierce as the lone outlier; the County Executive and Auditor supported the change, the County Council did not.

For several sessions, the Legislature declined to mandate that Pierce join the rest of the state, citing the state’s tradition of local control. As more and more Pierce voters themselves switched and as the participation rate for pollsite voters lagged and the price tag rose, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Auditor Julie Anderson, Executive Pat McCarthy, County Auditors and others again turned to Olympia for help. Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill and it passed both chambers.

Budget chat

As is so often the case, the questions in cases like this - a public online chat with a legislator - is at least as interesting as the answers.

The legislator is on a hot seat this week - Washington state Representative Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which with its Senate counterpart writes the state budget. Its proposal, just released, addresses the $5 billion gap between existing revenue sources and maintaining what the state now does. Doing that is the rub; it uses cuts in services, shifts of revenue use and other devices, including privatizing part of the state liquor system. It is leaving some unhappiness in its wake.

But also generating lots of fuzzy thinking.

One chatter complained, "every year we have run a deficit in this state." Hunter pointed out that the state (like most states) has to balance its budget every year.

Justin asked why the legislature continued taxes paying for various sports arenas, including the long-demolished Kingdome. Hunter replied that "we haven't decided to do that."

Another asked why tax breaks for banks and for cosmetic surgery are left alone while money for schools is being cut. Hunter said that increases in taxes requires a two-thirds vote, which can't be gotten.

Someone who voted against liquor privatization because of possible expansion of sales outlets last fall complained about the effort in the legislature now. Hunter said that (and this would be in contrast to the ballot measures) the new proposal would affect only warehousing, not the number of outlets.

And so on. An educational tour of the process and some of the substance. May it be done more often.

Politics as such barely entered in. The main exception was when a chatter asked what useful lessons Hunter would draw from the budgeting issues in Wisconsin. Hunter: "Extreme positions that create political theater might be fun to do, but don't advance the state. His economic proposals are dominated in public by his theater. Our cuts to employee benefits and compensation are deeper than the ones he proposed in Wisconsin, but we negotiated ours."