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A Primary Muddle

Editorial for Sept. 28, 2006

It's hard to know where to begin when looking at the Sept. 19 primary election in Klickitat County. It was a ball of confusion, and that's not a reassuring sign for those who care about the sanctity of our voting processes.

The object here is not to cast blame, as it appears there were a number of factors that went into the election snags. But with November's general election coming on fast, these problems need to get fixed. It may well be too late to make changes in time for November, but it's never too late to start planning ways to improve the system.

First, it took far too long to count the votes. The polling places closed at 8 p.m., but the day's results were not known until after 11 p.m. Of course, the Tuesday tallies are incomplete and unofficial, and mailed-in ballots continue to come in for about a week. Nevertheless, it should not take that long to get the initial day's count.

In Skamania County, the results were posted almost immediately: All Skamania County's Election Day vote totals were released to the public and the press by 8:07 p.m.!

The so-called "consolidated ballot," which 25 of the state's 39 counties used in this election, was confusing. In Klickitat County, about seven percent of the ballots cast (276 votes) were not counted in either the Democratic or Republican vote totals (the votes for non-partisan candidates on those ballots were counted, however) because the voter neglected to mark a political party or because the voter marked the ballot for candidates in both political parties, which is not allowed. That's a lot of votes getting tossed out. In fact, there were clearly enough votes to potentially change the outcome in the Republicans' Prosecuting Attorney race.

In Skamania County, which used the multiple ballot system, where there are separate ballots for each political party, only two percent of the partisan ballots were disqualified.

The printing of the Klickitat County ballots was flawed. The color-coding, designed to help voters stick to one and only one party as required, backfired. The section for the Democratic Party candidates was in blue, but the blue was too dark and the electronic machines read them as having every oval filled in. That's crazy, and it necessitated hand-counting of the Democratic Party ballots. Aren't the ballots tested before the voting starts?

Even with the need to count the Democratic ballots by hand, why did it take so long? In the evening's one key race on the Democratic side -- the County Commissioner contest between Marc Harvey and Chris Connolly -- there were only 293 votes to count on Election Day. As of 10:30 p.m. on Election Day, the totals in that race were an obviously incomplete 19 votes for Connolly, 13 votes for Harvey.

Perhaps most important, it's time for Klickitat County to get with the rest of the state and go to a vote-by-mail system. It's cheaper and it's more efficient, and there is a real "paper trail" for recounts, so we're not relying on electronic voting machines that have been proven to be untrustworthy.

There are only five counties in Washington that still have polling places, and our county is one of them. This needs to change. Those who complain that we're losing the civic nature of turning out to the polling places to join our neighbors to vote need to go to one of the polling places on Election Day. The voting halls are all but empty, so that argument carries no weight. In Klickitat County, 62 percent of the vote was cast via mail. There is no justification for our Klickitat County Commissioners trying to cling to an outmoded and expensive system when everyone else has taken a different route. It's time to get with the program and join the rest of the state.

Given the efficiency of the vote-counting process on display in Skamania County on Sept. 19, Klickitat County would do well to consider adopting the methods used there.

JB

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