Polling places are soon to be a thing of the past in Pierce County.
Under Senate Bill 5124, which Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Tuesday, Washington will change to an entirely vote-by-mail system, a move supporters say will add clarity to state law and save money but opponents say robs Pierce County of its right to preserve in-person voting.
“It’s a good day,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who has sponsored similar legislation every year since 2008. “It will give us one uniform voting system in the state.”
The law, which goes into effect in July, replaces a 2005 law that allowed Washington counties to choose to vote by mail or offer both mail-in ballots and polling places. Pierce County is the only one that’s held on to polling places.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said the new law means voters in the county will vote entirely by mail starting this fall, and they’ll receive notifications in the mail about how the new system will work soon.
All in all, though, Anderson said, it isn’t a big change for the county because 89 percent of ballots cast in Pierce County in the 2010 election were mailed in. Special elections were also frequently mail-only.
“It’s a nice confirmation of what is already in effect,” said Anderson.
The Pierce County Council has resisted proposals to shift to all-mail voting in the past, though, and Roger Bush, the council chairman, was disappointed with the Legislature’s decision to pass the bill.
His assistant, Karen Castillo, said Bush was unavailable for comment, but he left a statement with her saying that he thought it was hypocritical of Democratic state legislators preach free choice and then take it away because Pierce County decided to keep a system they didn’t like.
Castillo said, though, that Bush was glad the proposal would save about $80,000 for the county in the coming year, and he hoped to put that money toward park maintenance.
Secretary of State Sam Reed said he had been a longtime supporter of bills to implement voting by mail in Washington, and it didn’t make sense for his office to have to provide special outreach about in-person polling in Pierce County because so few people use it.
Reed said he thought all mail-in ballots would increase voter participation, save money and give people time to research candidates and issues.
To help people make the transition to the new system, Anderson said, her office was planning to set up about five voting service centers throughout the county where people could come to get replacement ballots or drop their ballots off in person. She said she hasn’t decided where the centers will be.
Washington will be the second state to adopt an all vote-by-mail system. Oregon did so in 1998.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 email@example.com