Washington voters have witnessed several changes in recent years, with poll sites getting replaced by mail-in ballots, the primary taking place a month earlier and constantly changing. Last week, Secretary of State Sam Reed talked about how voters now cast ballots from the mail instead of the polls, the primary this August will be the third different type since 2003 and voter rolls have been cleaned up since the governor’s election recount in 2004.
Reporter: The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the attorney general’s appeal to reinstitute the Top Two primary. What will be different for voters this fall?
Reed: The most important change for our state is that voters are no longer going to have to pick a party. They’ll be able to vote for the person — not the party — in the primary.
Reporter: Do you plan to institute the new primary this year?
Reed: We have a primary coming up Aug. 19 and we are going to be instituting it in time for that. The one difference from the blanket primary we had years ago is that in order to to make it constitutional we have to have the top two vote getters, not one from each party. So we will end up once in awhile with this unusual situation with two Democrats or two Republicans running against each other in the general election. The important thing for readers to understand is that this is a primary like our odd year primaries in the state of Washington that we’ve had for years where the top two vote getters move ahead, period. So it is not in any way a political party nominating process.
Reporter: The state is continuing to move toward all mail-in elections. What has your office done to facilitate that?
Reed: Well 37 out of 39 counties have done it. Voters have overwhelmingly showed the desire to move toward mailing in their ballots.
Reporter: There’s been recent news that King County wouldn’t be ready for an all mail in ballot this November. Why is that?
Reed: King County, because of the population, really needs the equipment and technology to sort and count the ballots really quickly. And that technology is available, it just doesn’t look like they are going to have it ready by November. So they’ll have it ready in 2009.
Reporter: What has been the feedback you’ve received regarding the loss of polls?
Reed: I think more than feedback there’s been some backlash. There are a few that really miss their poll sites and the whole experience of going to the poll to vote. So I suggested that counties have a drop off site where voters can take their ballot and drop it off and still have that experience.
Reporter: In addition to the move to mail-in voting, the future may bring us the ability to vote on the Internet. What is your office doing about the possibility of online voting?
Reed: Some tinkering. When I was auditor of Thurston County in 2000, we did a test with an online vote in the presidential primary. Of course it didn’t count, but it allowed us to see some of the challenges ahead. One of the things I’ve tried to push while in office is getting overseas military personnel online voting. That would be one way to start it out and work out the difficulties. There is still a lot of issues with the Internet like security and hackers and accountability to be worked out. But I think there is an interest in voters to go online and looking at the acceptance of mail-in voting — voters really want to mail-in their ballots — it would be welcomed.
Reporter: With the new changes in how Washington residents vote, has your office seen any changes in the voter rolls and voter turnout?
Reed: In response to some of the problems that became apparent after the 2004 governor’s election, I’ve actually been able to clean up the voter rolls and reduced the size quite a bit. There’s been over 400,000 names removed from the rolls since 2004. Voter turnout has been good lately. We have an open presidential race this year and a governor’s race that was tied last time with polls showing it is tied again this year.