Election Day Registration plan worries auditors

  • Sat Jan 28th, 2012 6:34pm
  • News

By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel is the person you’d least expect to hear talking trash about a plan aimed at boosting turnout in elections.

Yet when I called her, I got an earful about a bill chugging through the Legislature to allow a person to walk into an election office as late as 5 p.m. on Election Day, register as a new voter and cast a ballot.

Two dozen state lawmakers — all Democrats, including a bunch from Snohomish County — are pushing this idea known as Election Day registration. They say it makes it a little bit easier to participate in elections and as a result more people will vote. They point out it’s currentlly happening in eight states and the District of Columbia and democracy hasn’t failed in any of them.

But Weikel, along with the auditors in the other 38 counties and Secretary of State Sam Reed, are pushing back pretty hard. It’s pretty easy now to register; one can do it on their phone if they want.

Existing rules let a person sign up as late as eight days before an election. Auditors say that’s as close as they can cut it and still do all the checking to ensure that person should be allowed to vote.

Lawmakers figure it’s not a big deal if these new voters come in, cast a provisional ballot that would be kept separate from other ballots and not tallied until everything about the new voter is verified.

That’s true, Weikel said. It’s possible if counties are given adequate funds for hiring extra people to do the meticulous work needed to prevent any fraudulent votes from being cast and counted. There is a limited time for certifying elections and this task has to be done within that period.

But lawmakers aren’t offering resources, only a new mandate.

“This is pushing us to a place where we are very, very uncomfortable,” Weikel said. “It’s asking for a train wreck again and when that happens it won’t be the legislators standing there, it will be us.”

You may recall the last “train wreck” occurred following the 2004 contest for governor. Recounts and a trial exposed a system rife for abuse and revealed thousands of people voted who never should have received a ballot.

Reed, Weikel and the state’s auditors poured millions of dollars into repairing the damage. One of the major improvements was creation of a statewide database of voters that is regularly purged of names of people who’ve died or become incarcerated and thus are ineligible to vote.

Democrats may be thinking the situation is repaired well enough they can press ahead with Election Day registration. They also may be advancing an election-year part strategy to find ways to sign up more liberal college students to vote.

Either way, auditors feel they’ve finally scaled a mountain and restored the public’s faith in the outcome of elections. A dark cloud no longer hovers above their heads and they’d like to keep it that way.

“We are not perfect,” Weikel said. “We are in the sunlight now.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.