OLYMPIA – Voters heading to the polls this fall will be asked to prove who they are and where they live before they will be given a ballot.
While showing a driver’s license, utility bill or bank statement will suffice, election officials already are bracing for a bit of a backlash.
“This is going to catch some voters unaware,” Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said Wednesday. “But in my conversations with the public, there are quite a few people who favor this.”
Requiring identification is one of several election reforms that will become law on Sunday. Those without proof will be given a provisional ballot.
Other changes include requiring that provisional ballots be visually distinguishable from regular ballots and that they can’t be inserted into vote-counting machines. And Secretary of State Sam Reed now has the authority to begin reviewing election offices in each of Washington’s 39 counties.
Reed told reporters Wednesday the identification requirement is a significant piece of the reform package intended to restore the public’s faith in the election system.
Many voters lost confidence as revelations of mistakes and illegal votes piled up in the course of the months-long contest for governor. Though a trial eventually upheld Gov. Christine Gregoire’s victory, lawyers defending and challenging her win provided evidence of errors by election workers and invalid votes by nearly 1,800 felons.
Reed’s office will spend $2.5 million over the next two years to inform voters of what’s being done differently.
“We’ll be making the case for why they should have confidence in our election system,” Reed said. “They should be able to go to the polls with conviction that their vote will be counted.”
Much of $600,000 will be spent on television and radio ads between Aug. 22 and the Sept. 20 primary. Another $888,000 will be spent between the primary and the general election, leaving about $976,000 for the 2006 election cycle.
All the money is coming from the federal government through the Help America Vote Act.
Sinclair and Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger said they also will prepare information materials for the public on the new election laws and will speak to community groups.
Reed said part of his office’s statewide campaign is being retooled following last week’s ruling by a federal judge that invalidated the “top two” primary.
The ruling reinstates the primary used last fall, in which those who want to vote in a partisan race must pick a political party first, then cast ballots for only candidates of that party. Snohomish County is one of 13 counties with partisan races this fall.
Ballots listing only the nonpartisan races are available for those who do not want to vote for any candidate in the partisan races.
Last fall was the first time such a primary was used in Washington state. Reed’s office ran ads on TV and radio alerting voters to the new system. He said Wednesday that it helped defuse the anger of many voters, and he hopes for similar success this time around.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@ heraldnet.com.