In a move geared to save money and improve efficiency, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners has decided to conduct all future elections in the county entirely by mail-in ballot.
On May 15, Commissioners Ray Thayer, Don Struck, and David Sauter unanimously voted to approve the measure, which takes effect as of this year's primary election in August.
Although the County Commissioners had not previously supported going to a vote by mail system, recent election results appeared to sway them.
In the resolution authorizing the switch, the commissioners recognized that the county's voters had increasingly been trending toward the vote by mail option, as a big percentage of the county's voters have been casting their ballots by mail in recent elections.
"In the last four elections, over 64 percent of the electorate voted by mail," read an excerpt from the resolution passed by the commissioners. "This results in a disproportionate expense for polling places, ballot processing, and other associated expenses ... It is the duty of Klickitat County to be prudent and fiscally responsible in the discharge of all its responsibilities ..."
The resolution also noted that "35 of the state of Washington's 39 counties have moved to administering all mail ballot elections," and that "elections conducted by mail have historically resulted in a significantly higher voter turnout."
Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen took note of the benefits of going to a vote by mail system.
"Data on poll-site operation expenses and vote by mail cost estimates versus the loss of a `way of life' here in Klickitat County were heavily weighed by our commissioners," read a statement from Sorensen. "Estimated monetary savings could be as much as $10,000 per each county-wide election."
"Change is not always easy, but not necessarily adverse in the end," Sorensen added. "The Board of Commissioners wrestled with the question. It was not without many discussions and varied opinions that a decision was made to change the electoral process of our wonderful county."
Commissioner Don Struck pointed out that the technical requirements associated with voting at polling sites was about to get even more expensive.
"Basically, the cost of running polls and updating the equipment to meet new requirements for elections didn't make any sense," Struck explained. "What would be the point in spending about $158,000 to upgrade, knowing that other states and counties were not even going to be using that equipment?"
"It's been in the works for a couple months," Sorensen said on Monday. "The County Commissioners asked me for the numbers on expenses for poll site voting and I got that information to them. A week later, they asked if I would support them if they were to go to vote by mail. I was pleasantly surprised. It's going to be a lot easier on the staff."
Struck added that on a personal level, he will miss going to a public site to vote.
"I love going in and seeing people at the voting sites, but we can't be a dinosaur forever," Struck said. "A lot of polling places had just a handful of people still voting there. The time was right, and we didn't want to be the last county holding out."
White Salmon voter George Domijan said he has long been a proponent of voting in person, but is resigned to the change.
"As much as I support the old polling places, I do understand they get higher turnout with all-mail voting," Domijan said. "Nostalgia loses, and there is a certain sentimental value, but in reality, bigger voter participation goes with mail-in ballots. It's the wave of the future, so we'll ride it. That's the way it goes."
Following the action of Klickitat County, only Kittitas, Pierce, and King counties continue to have polling sites in the state of Washington. King County, the state's largest, has announced that it plans to switch to all vote by mail elections in 2008.
Sorensen said she tried to notify the county's poll workers in person.
"I called a good portion of the poll workers, and most of them said they had seen this coming," Sorensen said. "A few were very unhappy. It's a way of life gone by the wayside due to changing times, but times change as we progress."