Steve Breaux of WashPIRG: Not into counting ballots early.
  • Steve Breaux of WashPIRG: Not into counting ballots early.
Yes, Eli, Sen. Scott White leads the pack with pre-filed bills.

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But somehow you overlooked the fact that one of his proposals is perhaps the most dangerous idea of 2011…

Senate Bill 5015 would change existing law so that "the tabulation of absentee ballots may commence at 8:00 a.m. on the Monday immediately before the day of the primary or election. Tabulation results must be held in secrecy, as provided in RCW 29A.84.730, until after 8:00 p.m. on the day of the primary or election."

Improving the timely tabulation of ballots is a laudable goal, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision what can go wrong with counting ballots before an election is over.

Even if every election worker in the state can keep a secret and rigorous safeguards made tabulation facilities virtual black holes from which information would never leak, there are still external forces at play that make the idea of early vote tabulation a disaster waiting to happen.

Someone on the outside — a candidate, a political operative, an activist, or anyone else seeking to influence the outcome of an election — could announce on Monday afternoon that they have a contact in the elections office who says ‘so-and-so is winning’ the votes tabulated so far. True or not, such a claim would be plausible because votes are being counted; the rumor would make its way into the mainstream media and wreak havoc with public confidence in the integrity of our election system. This scenario isn’t farfetched considering the strategies recently used by some political consultants in our state (see tricks by the Left here and by the Right here).

I’ve been directly involved in ensuring the transparency of election processes around the world as an elections observer with the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during elections in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. There’s room for improvement in every system I’ve witnessed, overseas as well as here in Washington, but SB5015 is an inappropriate way to address the minor inconvenience of having to wait for election results.

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It’s inconvenient to have to wait for the results after voting has ended, but that doesn’t justify counting the votes before the election is over. Jeopardizing the integrity of our elections isn’t an appropriate remedy for media impatience and public curiosity. A more effective approach would be to get more machines, hire more workers, and do the job until the job’s done; King County Elections could learn a lesson from the emerging democracies of the former Soviet Union where votes are tabulated non-stop — often by hand — until every vote is counted and the tabulated results reported.

Expanding King County Elections is certainly not a politically palatable idea, especially while many vital government services are being cut or eliminated. But an even less attractive idea is jeopardizing the integrity of our elections process.

Steve Breaux
Public Interest Advocate
WashPIRG