It’s ballot boom time for area print shop

  • Eric Fetters<br>For the Enterprise
  • Friday, February 22, 2008 11:28am

EVERETT — The California recall election may be an entertaining sideshow to much of the nation, but it means serious business for a local ballot printer.

K&H Integrated Printing Solutions, located in a south Everett industrial park, will print election ballots for San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles. In addition to asking voters whether they want to recall Gov. Gray Davis, the ballots will include the names of 135 candidates officially running to replace Davis.

Needless to say, it will be a long ballot.

“We have had some as long in our private sector elections, but never for a public election,” said Jay Ackley, K&H’s chief executive officer.

Scott Konopasek, San Bernardino County’s registrar of voters and formerly Snohomish County’s elections manager, said it’s the longest ballot he’s ever heard of as well.

“Hopefully, it’s a record that won’t fall too soon,” he said.

Pallets in K&H’s production facility hold 44,000 pounds of blank paper ready to be turned into recall ballots. Another large collection of paper stock is on hand to be turned into absentee ballot envelopes.

Work on getting the recall ballots printed, assembled and sent out will begin soon. But first, the company has to finish the 170,000 or so absentee ballots for Snohomish County’s primary election set for Sept. 16.

Founded in downtown Everett in 1908, K&H handles a range of commercial printing, with clients that include Fluke Corp., Costco and Agilent.

But the company also has established itself as a specialized provider of ballot printing and election services for both the public and private sectors.

For example, even as work on preparing Snohomish County ballots went on this week, the company finished and sent out 200,000 ballots to members of the Screen Actors Guild for that entertainment union’s leadership election.

The Everett company’s small role in the California recall election is because of Konopasek. He knew of K&H because, until he left last winter, Konopasek had been Snohomish County’s elections manager for the past six years.

San Bernardino County is the nation’s largest county in area, with more than 20,000 square miles. With more than 1.7 million residents, the county needs 700,000 ballots for the Oct. 7 special election. K&H also is providing the same number of ballots for that county’s general election a month later.

That’s in addition to the primary and general election ballots that K&H is printing for Snohomish, Kitsap, Spokane and Yakima counties in this state and various private sector elections.

“October is going to be a pretty busy month for us,” Ackley said, adding he may temporarily expand his normal staff of about 50 people.

In all, K&H expects to print more than 5 million ballots this year, with at least 2 million of those being printed between now and November, he said.

So it’s no wonder the company usually sends out more pieces of mail than any other in the county.

Snohomish County and others have switched to using electronic touch-screens for voters at the polls, eliminating paper ballots. But that new technology hasn’t hurt K&H too much, said Dave Haines, general manager of the company’s ballot operation, which goes by the name of Integrated Voting Systems.

That’s because even as technology takes over in the voting booths, fewer people are voting that way. Instead, many are opting for permanent absentee status, which allows them to vote from home, Haines said. That still requires a paper ballot.

Also, K&H has been more active in landing business from private elections.

After the Screen Actors Guild leadership election in late 2001 was disputed, the union requested proposals from new potential contractors. The union chose the Everett company.

Now, K&H handles ballots and services for about a dozen private elections, including other big entertainment unions. For those private elections, the company often handles the counting of ballots in addition to the preparation work.

For public elections, however, county employees do the counting. And because of the potential for election fraud, security in the company’s ballot production and assembly areas is tight. High, barbed-wire fences surround the final ballot preparation area, and county workers personally supervise that work.

Konopasek jokingly calls Everett the “ballot-making Mecca of the world.” In addition to being home to K&H, Texas-based Diebold Election Systems has a printing facility in south Everett. That facility, which provides ballots for King County and others, also will print recall ballots for elsewhere in California.

Eric Fetters is a reporter for The Herald in Everett.

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