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Election Reform
From: Joan Monteith

  Walt, this is the Sam Reed email concerning Election Reform I referred to at your District meeting.

Received from Secretary of State Sam Reed, Feb. 18, 2001

Legislative package emphasizes security, proficiency and accuracy in elections and voting Prompted by the election debacle in Florida, Secretary of State Sam Reed today announced a package of legislative proposals designed to keep Washington State "ahead of the curve" in conducting accurate, secure and orderly elections.

"We're about as far away as you can get from Florida, and not just geographically," said Reed, who characterized Washington State as a "national leader" in elections administration. "There's always room for improvement, however, and that's why we're submitting a variety of proposals to protect the integrity of our elections process."

Reed's legislative package is a combination of strengthening elections procedures and proficiency, protecting voters against discrimination, and safeguarding against improper and illegal voter registration. His proposals include:

Restoring a program which requires every county election department to undergo a review of its elections policies and procedures at least once every three years;
Increasing resources for training and certifying state and local election administrators;
Clarifying election law to ensure that vote recounts are concluded in a timely manner;
Establishing criminal penalties for discriminating against or disenfranchising eligible citizens who want to register to vote;
Ensuring that applicants understand the citizenship and age requirements for registering to vote, and that they are aware of the criminal penalties for violating those requirements;
Creating new processes for detecting voters registered or voting in more than one county, and for removing out-of-date registrations;
Setting up a Secretary of State "clearinghouse" for citizens to lodge complaints regarding violations of election laws or procedures, with a process for follow-up by the affected county elections officer and, if warranted, the county prosecutor. Although not part of his legislative package, Reed will also be working with county election officials to standardize policies for determining voter intent on ballots that are not clearly marked or punched. The US Supreme Court's ruling on the Florida elections process made it clear that each state must adopt uniform procedures for interpreting voter intent. Reed said such a policy could be adopted in Washington State through administrative rules.

In contrast to Florida, the state of Washington encountered few problems in last year's elections, even with a hotly contested US Senate race that went to a mandatory statewide recount. Even so, said Reed, the state cannot be complacent about secure and accurate elections.

"Elections are all about voter confidence," said Reed, who served as Thurston County Auditor for 22 years before being elected Secretary of State. "Washington state is doing well, but we need to stay ahead of the curve to keep earning the public's trust."

Reed is also requesting legislation to move the date of the state primary from the third Tuesday in September to the second Tuesday in June, and to establish a State Voters Pamphlet for the primary.

Reed wants an earlier primary to allow more time for absentee ballots to be printed, mailed and returned by voters before the general election. More than 50 percent of the state's registered voters used absentee ballots in the last election. An earlier primary would also avoid potential delays in printing and distributing general election ballots in instances where primary races are subject to mandatory and requested recounts.

Meanwhile, Reed continues to work with lawmakers and the state Attorney General to develop a response to the US Supreme Court ruling which held that political parties cannot be forced to use a blanket primary system to nominate candidates. Reed says he wants to develop a bipartisan plan that gives voters as much independence and privacy as possible when voting in the primary.


Summary of Elections-Related Executive Request Legislation

Sam Reed, Secretary of State
2001 Legislative Session


Restoring periodic review program for county election departments

Prompted by a series of elections mishaps, the 1992 Legislature approved a Secretary of State request to require county election departments to undergo periodic reviews of their policies and procedures. Under the program, the Secretary of State's office was required to conduct a review and file a report on each county in the state at least once every four years. The Legislature canceled the program in 1997, leaving nine counties without a review.

This measure proposes to restore the program so that each county undergoes a review of its elections procedures at least once every three years. The goal of the program is to avoid Florida-type problems by making certain that local election departments are using proper methods to ensure the accuracy and security of ballot processing and tabulation.

Enhancing election administrator training and certification program

A companion to the elections review program, the Election Administrator Certification and Training Program was created in 1992 to foster increased proficiency among state and local election administrators. Under the program, election administrators and political party election observers are required to receive general training regarding elections and specific training regarding that person's actual duties. In addition, state and county elections officials and personnel are tested and certified following the completion of their training programs. The program is administered by the Secretary of State under the guidance of the Election Administration and Certification Board.

Funding for this program was sharply reduced by the Legislature in 1997, forcing the Secretary of State's office to cut back training and certification opportunities for local elections staff. The Secretary of State is asking the Legislature to expand the program to ensure that election officials are adequately trained in current election procedures and practices, and that election departments receive sufficient technical assistance from the Office of the Secretary of State.

The proposed budget for both the election review program and the administrator training is $964,000 for two years. It would cost approximately $485,000 just to maintain the program at current operating levels.

Clarifying election law to ensure that vote recounts are completed in a timely manner

In contrast to Florida, the state of Washington has comprehensive, specific procedures in written in statute to govern the conduct of vote recounts. These procedures, which have been in place for more than 30 years, are designed to ensure public confidence in the elections process by requiring a fair, orderly process of vote recounts in close races.

During the last election cycle, Washington State conducted mandatory recounts in two statewide races well within the election certification deadline established in law. Election officials discovered, however, that a situation could arise where opposing candidates could request an alternating series of partial recounts in specific parts of the jurisdiction (i.e., single counties or groups of precincts). This measure would amend the law to require an automatic recount of the entire jurisdiction if a requested partial recount reversed the outcome of the race. Further recounts would not be allowed, eliminating the possibility of recount "leapfrogging" by candidates.

The measure would also update the statutes to allow the Secretary of State to order recounts by fax and e-mail, reducing the amount of time required to get a recount started.

Protecting the integrity of elections (Omnibus Bill)

This measure contains a number of provisions to protect voters against discrimination and disenfranchisement, and to safeguard Washington's elections system against improper voting and voter registration. The bill contains the following elements:

Establishes that any election officer or registrar who intentionally disenfranchises an eligible citizen or discriminates against a person eligible to vote by denying voter registration is guilty of a class C felony. *
Institutes new procedures for the Motor Voter and Agency-Based Registration programs to ensure that applicants understand the requirements and qualifications for registering to vote. Specifically, the registering agents will be required to ask applicants if they are US citizens and if they are at least 18 years of age.
Requires that voter registration forms contain clear and conspicuous language stating that the applicant must be a US citizen to register, and that there are criminal penalties for violating the registration requirements
Clarifies that any person who illegally registers to vote is guilty of a class C felony. *
Strengthens procedures for detecting and canceling duplicate voter registrations; requires the Secretary of State and county election departments to undertake an annual program to detect persons voting more than once; requires county prosecutors to pursue complaints regarding election law violations.
Requires the Secretary of State to produce a voter guide explaining what constitutes voter fraud and discrimination under state election laws.
Requires the Secretary of State to encourage voter participation by producing voter registration information in specified foreign languages.
Requires the Secretary of State to provide ways for voters to submit complaints or information regarding violations of election laws or procedures; requires the Secretary of State to forward complaints to the affected county election officer; requires the county election officer to notify the Secretary of State regarding findings and actions regarding each complaint.*A class C felony is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, or by a fine of up to ten thousand dollars, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Moving the date of the state Primary

The state of Washington's September primary is one of the latest in the country, creating a compressed election schedule that threatens to delay voters pamphlets and ballot printing for the general election when close races go to recounts. This measure would change the primary election date from the third Tuesday in September to the second Tuesday in June, and move other election deadlines accordingly. An earlier primary would also provide additional time for absentee voters to receive and return their general election ballots to county election departments.

Establishing a State Voters Pamphlet for the Primary

This legislation would require candidate pamphlets for both the state primary and general election (Washington State has produced a voters pamphlet for the general election since 1914). Like the general election pamphlet, the proposed primary election pamphlet would contain photographs and campaign statements of all eligible candidates who submit that material in time for publication, together with campaign mailing addresses and telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and web sites if the candidate provides them. The cost of producing pamphlets for both the primary and the general election is estimated at $600,000 for 2001, $800,000 for 2002.