Get In Line -- SPOKANE -- Despite months of political bickering, back-biting and ballyhoo; exaggerations, elaborations, indictments, incitements and a whole heap of rhetoric, elections officials seem hopeful that voters haven't given up on democracy yet. Last week, in fact, Secretary of State Sam Reed predicted that next week's general elections could produce the highest voter turnout in the state since World War II.
Reed predicts that 84 percent of registered voters will take to the ballot box on Nov. 2. That prediction takes into account past voter turnout, Washington's on-and-off status as a battleground state in the presidential election, the "dead heat" in the gubernatorial race, the open seats for two members of Congress, a tight attorney general race and an expensive battle for a seat in the U.S. Senate. "All of the signs are there," suggests Reed.
If he's right, this year's turnout could rival that of the 1944 presidential elections, when 85 percent of registered voters in Washington came out to have a say. "This is an exciting time to cast a ballot in the state of Washington, no matter how you lean politically," says Reed.
The scene is no different in Spokane County, where auditor Vicky Dalton has predicted that a total of 214,034 (about 85 percent) of the county's 251,185 registered voters will cast a ballot. "We are expecting a humongous turnout," says Dalton. "Just absolutely staggering."
Officials in the Auditor's office say that not only will more people vote in general, but also more people will vote absentee than ever before. This year, 58.7 percent of registered voters are set to mail in their ballots, as opposed to visiting a polling site. That's up from 23 percent in 2000.
Dalton says that she and the Auditor's Office have fervently pushed for more absentee voting since the 2000 election -- and not because she likes the added paperwork. Dalton claims that, in a normal election, three out of five absentee voters end up putting their ballots in the mail. Whereas, she says, "If we get 20 percent turnout from [registered] poll site voters, we consider that lucky."
The reason for that may become obvious to voters who find themselves at the ends of very long lines come next Tuesday. ("Expect 'em," says Dalton.) Yes, more people will be voting from home, but in an effort to get all polling sites to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the county has winnowed the number of polling sites from 190 in 2000 to just 93 this year.
If you aren't sure where to vote, call the Auditor's Office at 477-2320 or check out spokanecounty.org/elections. -- Joel Smith
Building Blocks -- SPOKANE -- At a time when many city-funded centers are reducing hours or closing down completely, it's especially good news that Spokane's Community Building (35 W. Main Ave.) is expanding. The Community Building was opened in 2001, reserved for businesses and organizations dedicated to social and environmental justice. Existing tenants include the Center for Justice, Thin Air Radio, Global Folk Art, the NAACP, the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance and Zendo, to name a few. Dave Sanders, community coordinator for the Community Building, says the purchase of two additional buildings (21 W. Main and 25 W. Main) will make space for 30 to 40 additional tenants.
"We've been approached by a yoga group. There's talk of expanding the Zen center. I've talked to a group that's interested in a language and cultural education center. I've had interest from a bakery, a caf & eacute; and a juice bar group," Sanders says, describing the kind of image the Community Building wants. He says organizations or businesses should have "a connection to some form of greater good, whatever that is."
Jim Sheehan, with the Center for Justice, joined with the Community Building to purchase the buildings, both of which are on the historical register. Sanders says that the expansion will be environmentally sound and will maintain the historical integrity of the buildings
"It involves using recycled materials and the existing materials as we can, using products that are not toxic, like paint supplies and adhesives for carpet and things like that." The new Community Buildings will capture rainwater, saving it to water plants during the summer months or using it to flush toilets. Zeck Butler Architects has been hired for the expansion, and Sanders says the Community Building would like them to connect the garden rooftop on the current Community Buildings to the two new ones.
Sanders says the Community Building is looking for tenants to move in as early as this spring. -- Cara Gardner