Midnight ballot-counting bill: Even prime sponsor Van De Wege says it’s dead

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — A bill sponsored by a 24th Legislative District representative that would have forced county auditors across the state to count and process ballots as late as midnight on Election Day has died in committee after receiving no support from state or county elections officials.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, said Friday the proposed legislation garnered no support during a public hearing the day before in a House Government Operations and Elections Committee meeting.

“The hearing did not go well,” Van De Wege said. “The bill is dead. It’s not moving forward.”

A representative of the state Secretary of State’s Office and the auditors of Grays Harbor and King counties spoke in opposition at the first hearing for HB 1102, which would have required county auditors to count and process ballots until midnight the evening of a general or primary election or until all ballots on hand were counted and processed, whichever came first.

The bill also was opposed by North Olympic Peninsula auditors — both Clallam County’s Patty Rosand and Jefferson County’s Donna Eldridge.

In a Saturday interview, Rosand said Van De Wege told her Friday morning that he was planning to pull the bill because of a lack of support from elections officials.

“I just appreciate that Rep. Van De Wege listened to the auditors, who are the experts in the election field, and made a decision to pull that bill,” Rosand said.

“I thank him very much.”

Van De Wege represents the 24th Legislative District — comprising Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County — alongside fellow Rep. Steve Tharinger, another Sequim Democrat, and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.

At the Thursday hearing, state Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat and one of the co-sponsors of HB 1102, said the point of the bill was to get election results to voters more quickly.

Grays Harbor County Auditor Vern Spatz said the bill, if passed, would not necessarily achieve that goal, though it could force county election staff to hurriedly process ballots and potentially make mistakes.

“It would increase our costs, and it would it increase the stress,” Spatz said at the hearing.

“I don’t think it would necessarily get results out any earlier.”

Statewide elections are entirely by mail, with some ballots coming in days after the date of the election.

Hunt asked why an auditor’s office could not simply bring in another shift of staff to count ballots into the late evening, to which Spatz replied that the issues lies in training staff to count and process ballots, not just finding more people to be there Election Day.

In an earlier interview, Rosand said it takes two years to train a certified elections administrator and another couple of elections before the staff member is proficient with the balloting tabulating machine.

Ballot counting and processing involves matching a voter’s signature on the balloting with the one on file in the auditor’s office, examining each ballot item to confirm it’s marked clearly and duplicating improperly filled-out ballots if necessary, Rosand explained.

“It’s not just a matter of throwing them through a scanner,” Rosand said.

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

Last modified: January 26. 2013 5:37PM
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