Klickitat County changes to all-mail voting; cost cited

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

for The Columbian

WHITE SALMON, WA - Neighborhood polling places, the time-honored tradition of democracy and community, will become a relic of the past in Klickitat County this August as the county government switches to a mail-in ballot.

"I love going in and seeing people at the voting sites, but we can't be a dinosaur forever," Commissioner Don Struck said last week. "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."

The move, which is aimed at saving money and improving efficiency, was unanimously approved by county commissioners earlier this month. Commissioners had previously opposed vote-by-mail but conceded that voters increasingly prefer the vote-by-mail option.

In the last four elections, the county said, nearly two thirds of local voters used mail-in ballots. Statewide, 35 of 39 counties are exclusively vote-by-mail.

Finances also played a role. Struck said technical requirements associated with voting at polling sites were 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 said. "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?"

Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen said switching to mail ballots would save about $10,000 per countywide election.

"It's going to be a lot easier on the staff," Sorensen said. "I called a good portion of the poll workers, and most of them said they had seen this coming. 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."

White Salmon voter George Domijan said he prefers 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," he 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."

Did you know?
- Following the action of Klickitat County, only Kittitas, Pierce, and King counties continue to have polling sites in Washington.
- King County, the state's largest, has announced that it plans to switch to all-mail elections in 2008.


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