Peninsula auditors oppose bill on late election night ballot counts

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

Auditors for both Clallam and Jefferson counties strongly object to legislation proposed by state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege that would require auditors to process and count all-mail ballots until election night ends at midnight or they run out of ballots on hand.

“I am definitely opposed to this bill,” Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand said Wednesday.

“It’s not going to give anyone final election results on election night.”

Jefferson County Auditor Donna Eldridge said the proposed legislation “would create problems for Jefferson County.”

Rosand, Eldridge and Grays Harbor County Auditor Vern Spatz have requested a meeting in Olympia on Feb. 6 to discuss this legislation — HB 1102 — and other issues with Van De Wege, a 24th District representative in the state Legislature.

Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat, represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County in the state Legislature with fellow state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.

Both Rosand and Eldridge said Wednesday they have contacted Van De Wege’s office about their concerns with HB 1102.

“I believe that what we’re asking is that Rep. Van De Wege reconsider his support of the bill,” Eldridge said.

Rosand said she was considering attending a public hearing on the bill set for today in Olympia.

Eldridge and Rosand agree the bill would not produce more complete results on election night, adding that some ballots cannot be counted that night because their signatures must be verified.

“This bill is hurrying us up on election night when we still have ballots coming in,” Rosand said.

“It’s not going to give anyone final election results on election night.”

Both auditors estimate their respective offices received about one-quarter of all ballots cast by Nov. 5 and 6 in the most recent general election.

Eldridge and Rosand said their issues with the proposed legislation stem from their joint concern that requiring more ballots to be counted election night could hurt the accuracy of the counting and processing procedures.

“Our main goal is to ensure the integrity of the election process,” Eldridge said.

Ballots do not merely have to be run through a scanner to be counted, both auditors said.

They also are scrutinized item by item, and a ballot is duplicated if one elected office or ballot measure is improperly or unclearly marked.

“To ask [our staff] to continue on until midnight is asking for the possibility of mistakes being made,” Rosand said.

For the last general election, Rosand said, her office duplicated about 1 percent of the total ballots cast, while Eldridge said her staff duplicated just more than 10 percent.

Both auditors also agreed their respective offices most likely would not be able to hire a new person for election night but rely instead on existing staff.

This could mean a 17- or 18-hour workday on election night, both auditors said, as the bill would require staff to work as late as midnight.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 23. 2013 6:07PM
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