by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & want the county to give me back my voting booth! For lots of reasons! Here are just a few of them:
1. By adopting, exclusively, absentee voting, Spokane County has reduced what should be a civic moment into an activity that has about as much sense of occasion as paying your Avista bill.
2. The county responds by telling us that ever since the state went to "no excuse required" absentee voting, the percentage of absentee voters had risen from in the single digits to more than 80 percent, thus it no longer was "cost-effective" to staff precincts. Hogwash! I'm told by good sources that the claimed cost savings were always dubious. And we know for a fact that absentee vote counting is proving to be very labor intensive.
In case you haven't noticed, here we are three weeks after the 2006 election and the county is just now prepared to announce in one race whether we need a recount in one race. And the County Commissioner's race? It wasn't settled until late last week.
To bring in workers over several weekends to plow through stacks of ballots, and along the way make decisions regarding which ones count and which one don't, is not only labor intensive, it takes time -- lots of time. Effectively, Spokane County has turned Election Day into Election Season.
3. Absentee voting always distorts election results. It has to. We know from a myriad of election studies that many voters make up their minds very late in the campaign. Some would argue that people who mail in their ballots early have made up their mind and aren't going to change. Logic suggests otherwise. A late-breaking scandal, an abrupt change in world affairs, a campaign miscue or maybe just the cumulative effects of a long campaign -- changes happen.
4. In any case, absentee voting must make the work of the campaign more costly and difficult for the candidates. When we had an Election Day rather than an Election Season, candidates knew when they had to peak. Now what do they do? They are left to guess. Do they peak in mid- to late October when ballots are mailed out? And if so, what do they do during the first week in November?
5. Absentee voting encourages voter fraud. I put the fraud question to a county election official: "What's to prevent anyone," I asked, " from going out and getting, say, a hundred or so people who have little or no interest in the election outcome, to simply sign their ballot?" His answer, after a long pause: Nothing at all. He countered by pointing out that precinct voting has a checkered history, too, and that we know vote fraud has occurred at the polling place. Yes, no doubt about it.
My parents grew up in Kansas City during the Pendergast years and told the story of the Kansas City Star running photographs of tombstones right next to the voting rolls on which appeared names of those very deceased.
The difference is that you can monitor a polling place. If you have concerns, just bring down some official poll watchers. But absentee ballots? There is zero way to check once the signature is put on the ballot.
6. Which brings me to several related questions: Why is it that fewer and fewer people were going to the polling places? The county, as I've mentioned, blames it all on the "no excuse" needed absentee ballot. But when I pushed a tad further, they acknowledged that the serious drop off didn't occur in the city neighborhoods but rather out in the suburbs. My first impulse is to suggest that maybe doing one's civic duty just requires a tad bit more of time if you have chosen to live out in the suburbs. And what's wrong with that?
But I'm not sure we should blame voters at all. I've spoken to several county residents who always went to the polls and appreciated the experience. They now use an absentee ballot only because the county has so reduced the number of polling places (and moved them around seemingly every year) that they were faced with a very long drive. So could it be that the county has created a self-fulfilling prophecy by cutting the number of polling places? I think so.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ost fundamentally, I believe, there are civic benefits that come with voting at polling places -- benefits that can't be reduced to dollars. If you believe, as I do, that Election Day should be an event, then you can't treat your ballot like just another Avista bill. You appreciate the opportunity of walking (or driving) to your polling place and seeing your neighbors there. You are part of a political community. Precinct voting symbolizes your membership in that community.
And you leave knowing that you have done your civic duty. You will even be recognized for having done it. They will give you that little stick-on that reads, "I Voted." You have the opportunity of exchanging hellos with neighbors. You will thank the volunteers. You will have experienced a small but important social event. And these are reasons enough to bring back precinct voting.
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