At a 9:30 AM press conference, King County elections director Dean Logan released plans to transition the county to all vote-by-mail elections by the August, 2007 primary election. The implementation plan is detailed in a 30-page document, “Moving to Vote By Mail.”
King County Executive Ron Sims first proposed the move back in December, at which time he instructed Logan to study the issue and come back with recommendations. The resulting proposal was guided by the following planning objectives:
Adopt and implement a vote-by-mail election system to:
- Simplify and streamline election administration
- Be a model jurisdiction for accountability, accuracy and transparency
- Increase voter participation
- Enhance access to voting
Hard to argue with those objectives… though I’m sure some people will try.
Insiders tell me there is council support for the required ordinances and funding, so this move is virtually guaranteed. When the transition has been completed, King County will be the largest jurisdiction in the nation conducting all vote-by-mail elections.
I’m still reading through the document and will update with further analysis later this morning.
I’ve skimmed through the report, but it’s kind of detailed, so here are a few quick observations.
With 70 to 80 percent already voting by mail, it has simply become too costly and too inefficient to simultaneously maintain two different election systems. In addition to increasing voter turnout, particularly in low profile elections…
Voting by mail means we move to a single, common voting system. It means simpler instructions for voters and more streamlined and efficient systems for election workers. As we move to voting by mail, there will be fewer provisional ballots and decreased dependency on manual processes. Voting by mail offers the opportunity to eventually provide something new for voters that they have told us they want: the ability to track their own ballot.
Again, I’ve repeatedly stated my preference to vote at the polls, but all this is a good thing, and the motivations behind this transition are based on pragmatism.
One thing the report makes perfectly clear is that the complexity of this transition is not being taken lightly; that’s why the final implementation has been pushed back to 2007. This is a very thorough report that realistically discusses the technical, organizational and political obstacles to a successful transition. For example, the report outlines a number of legislative changes that need to be made, and how their failure might impact the transition.
The report also notes the import of getting things right the first time:
In implementing the vote-by-mail system countywide, the biggest concern (and greatest threat to success) is the potential for missing critical path deadlines in a large, complex, and highly visible public process. Though the average voter does not understand the many processes and complexities inherent in running the largest vote-by-mail system in the country, they will know without a doubt if something goes wrong in their individual case, or if the system is implemented in a way that increases the potential for error. We will not get a second chance to make a first impression about how well this was done.
Looks to me like Logan has learned an important lesson from the 2004 election… perception counts. The whole purpose of the move to all vote-by-mail is to make voting more secure, reliable, accessible, and efficient. In doing so, Logan plans to bring in important new technologies like high-speed ballot tabulators, automated signature verification, and voter-verifiable ballot tracking. But when it comes to rebuilding public faith in our election systems, all this will go to naught if KC trips up out of the gate.
I’ll write more on the subject when I have the time to give this report the detailed attention it deserves.