Peninsula auditors oppose bill on late election night ballot counts

Auditors across the Olympic Peninsula strongly objected 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.

And on Thursday, Grays Harbor Auditor Vern Spatz testified before the House Committee on Government Operations & Elections Committee opposed to the legislation.

“This bill would not result in more results for our county because we are already efficiently processing all the mail received through that day,” Spatz testified. “In the past Presidential election we had 98 percent of our final ballots counted by the Thursday after the election. Except for late arriving military or overseas ballots and some minor cleanup, we were essentially done. This bill would degrade the accuracy, increase costs, and increase stress but would not generate additional results any earlier.

Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand and Jefferson County Auditor Donna Eldridge also are opposing the bill.

Rosand, Eldridge and 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, D-Sequim, said that this morning that the public hearing did not go well for the bill and he doesn’t anticipate it moving further.

“Nobody testified for it and everyone came out against it,” he said.

Van De Wege said he sponsored the legislation in an effort to get the public more accurate results sooner. He said election results are often only counted once on election night and the rest of the results are delayed by up to three days, which is allowed per state law, but that leaves closer elections up in the air more often.

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.

Ballots do not merely have to be run through a scanner to be counted. They also are scrutinized item by item, and a ballot is duplicated if one elected office or ballot measure is improperly or unclearly marked.

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.

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

Van De Wege said he still plans to keep his meeting with the local auditors to discuss other election issues, even if this bill doesn’t move forward any more.

Spatz said he also testified with concerns on another Van De Wege sponsored bill, House Bill 1103, that would require counties across the state to create a uniform ballot that specifically uses an oval for voters to fill in. As it happens, Grays Harbor’s system uses a rectangle and Spatz said only one company in the state offers the oval format, which would require the county to purchase new election scanning software and equipment at the county’s expense.