With the Washington State Legislature convening this coming Monday, January 8 we wanted to share our 2018 legislative priorities. As always, our goal is to make voting as accessible and barrier-free as possible. Here’s a look at what Director Wise will be supporting in Olympia over the next two months:
Make it easier to register.
Move to Same Day Registration. Washington’s deadlines make no sense compared to the rest of the country. In 2016 we saw the highest turnout in states with Same Day registration. It will take money and work, but there’s no reason we can’t give Washington voters that same opportunity.
Get 16 and 17 year-olds signed up. So many people first encounter voter registration in their high school social studies class or when they get their first driver’s license. It’s an enormous missed opportunity not to sign them up right then and there.
Make it representative for everyone.
It’s past time for all of our communities to have a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice. The Washington Voting Rights Act allows local jurisdictions to pick whether they want to hold at-large or by-district elections while also protecting minority groups from discrimination in the election system.
Make it simple to return your ballot.
Allow jurisdictions to implement prepaid postage if that will serve their voters more effectively than additional ballot drop boxes.
Let jurisdictions accept electronically returned ballots without requiring voters to submit their hard-copy materials. These voters have made their choices; we should count them without extra steps.
Permit voters with disabilities and overseas/services voters to use a stamp or electronic signature to sign their ballot.
Make it fair for all jurisdictions.
Currently the state only pays their share of election costs in odd numbered years, the opposite of when there are state races on the ballot. For King County alone, the average unfunded state election cost in these years is about $4 million.
Make it convenient for voters to participate in the primary.
An August Primary is a challenge for many voters who are on vacation or tied up with summer activities. It is also inconsistent with the rest of the states in our region. Legislators and election administrators should work together to find a May or June Primary date that makes more sense.
We replaced our tabulation and processing equipment with a new system that better serves the County’s growing voter population (nearly 1.3 million registered voters and counting!) We’ll start using the new software to process the August 1 Primary Election.
So, why are we updating our elections equipment now? It’s mainly because the old system was nearly 10-years-old and approaching the end of its useful life. With King County’s ever-increasing voter population, the system was frequently bumping up against its capacity, which could create slowdowns and delays in results processing.
The new system consists of user-friendly accessible voting units, high-speed scanners and an improved system to correct ballots with irregularities. Ballots will be processed more efficiently, with fewer requiring special handling. The upgraded system will produce faster results and count more votes on Election Night.
The new accessible voting units allow a voter to mark their ballot on an intuitive user-interface. Voters can use the touchscreen option or other assistive technology device. Once the voter has completed the ballot marking process, they will print the machine-marked ballot and place it in a ballot drop box.
Did you know King County Elections offers voting materials in Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese? Providing translation services is just another way our office is working to improve voter access.
The Federal Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions to provide translated election materials in another language if 10,000 people or 5 percent of voting-age citizens speak that language and have limited English proficiency. In accordance with this law, we produce election information and voting materials in Chinese and Vietnamese.
In 2011, Washington State shifted to vote by mail. For every election in which you are eligible to vote, we mail you a ballot with measures and candidates specific to your address. While vote by mail has improved voter access for many, not all voting-age residents have a traditional address. In the 2016 King County One Night Count, over 10,000 people, the majority of which are of voting age, were counted as being homeless. These people are staying in many places ranging from encampments to emergency shelters and transitional housing. So how do they get access to voting?
Sometimes it’s more convenient to drop a ballot on the way to or from somewhere instead of mailing it especially when the deadline looms. And who has a stamp handy anyways? Many of us rarely do.
Removing barriers and improving access to ensure that every voter is able to easily exercise their right to vote is one of the most important priorities for our department. Ballot drop boxes have become an important tool for voters here and thanks to a new proposal which was recently funded by the King County Council, the current number of drop boxes is going to grow from 10 to 43. This means that 91.5% of all King County residents will now live within 3 miles of a drop box.
King County Elections currently has 10 permanent ballot drop boxes and 12 temporary ballot-drop vans. The vans, which have limited hours and days of operation, will no longer be used. The planned expansion will add 33 permanent drop box locations. Installation of the boxes will be a phased approach:
29 ballot drop boxes will be available for the August 2016 Primary Election. The list of locations will be available on our website by June 15.
The remaining 14 ballot drop boxes will be available for the November 2016 General Election.
Deciding on how many drop boxes to have and where to put them can be a tricky balancing act. Considerations such as cost, traffic flow, proximity to transit options, parking, and the presence of underserved communities all play a part in the decision making process. We are committed to keeping voter access a high priority.