Electronic voting bill would improve elections

Virtual nobody in the state is happy with the state’s all-mail-in election system.

Voters cast their ballots by mail then have to wait weeks to find out who is elected, if a new tax passed or a new law is approved. Some voters even complain about paying for a stamp to return their ballot.

I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to voting — I take my ballot personally to the Okanogan County Auditor’s Office and put it in the drop box. Believe it or not, I still put the “I voted” sticker on my lapel or shirt.

Looking back, I miss the days when I could go to the polling place and cast my ballot.

When I lived in Liberty on the other side of Blewett Pass, my polling place was the Teanaway Grange building. The first voter on Election Day not only cast their ballot and received a sticker, they got to ring the large bell that echoed through the valley alerting others that voting was open. Best of all, at the end of Election Day, I usually knew the outcome of races and ballot measures.

I know we’ll never return to those types of election days. But given the technology available today, I sure would like to see voting laws change enough so that we wouldn’t have to wait several days or weeks for multiple all-mail ballot counts to be completed.

Maybe this is the year that changes here in our state.

Two bills have been filed that would ease the election process — one would save voters time having to buy postage and the other would allow electronic ballots (let’s call it e-voting). I like the latter.

House Bill 1143 would allow voters to return ballots and signed declarations to be faxed or emailed to election officials. The initial purpose is to expand the electronic balloting system currently used by many voters serving in armed forces abroad. If the measure is ultimately approved, it would also allow voters submitting e-ballots to avoid having to return hard copies.

I have to admit I love the idea. But I don’t think it goes far enough.

Many people already bank electronically. Health care records are kept and shared electronically. So, why not vote through an electronic means?

If the federal government can implement a procedure in which citizens register for health care on a secure system, then surely our technologically advanced state can develop a procedure for e-voting.

Such a system would allow state registered voters to sign in, fill out and submit their e-ballots. It would avoid the need for elections officials and voters to spend thousands and thousands of dollars just to mail ballots back and forth. And with few exceptions, it would allow us to have results on election night.

E-ballots could still have an electronic signature, similar to a process used by the Internal Revenue Service for e-filed tax returns. That would give elections officials a means of verifying ballots, thus saving countless hours of public employee time.

Toss in the ability to trace an e-ballot’s origin through the use of an IP address, and you have a winning formula that gets us out of the all-mail ballot dilemma.

House Bill 1143 needs a few tweaks, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it’s a far better option than Senate Bill 5344, which puts taxpayers on the hook for increase postage costs while maintaining the all-mail Election Day woes.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.


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