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Commissioners: Price of polls too high

Financial considerations trumped tradition on Monday, July 11, as the Kitsap County commissioners approved a resolution closing the physical polls and turning the county into a vote by mail zone.

“My family votes at the polls,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen immediately before the vote. “It makes us feel that we have done our duty. Recently I’ve talked to a lot of people who vote by mail and they feel just a little more patriotic. But while I feel that we should all go to the polls on Election Day and it should be a national holiday, it’s not cost-effective. And we need to spend every tax dollar as efficiently and wisely as we can.”

The vote was unanimous, with Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent and South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel both saying preserving the tradition was not worth the about $1 million it would cost to keep the polls open.

Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn, a long-time advocate of voting by mail, said there were three reasons to support the resolution.

For example, an estimated 86 percent of Kitsap voters mail in their ballots. Equipment required by new Federal law will cost $732,000, with training and maintenance costs extra. And maintaining two separate elections increases the possibility of mistakes.

“The current system introduces another opportunity for error,” she said. “We shouldn’t be spending this money for something that 14 percent of people will use.”

While Endresen mentioned nostalgia and tradition as the proposal’s major drawbacks, its opponents had different concerns. The criticisms included privacy, security, fraud, and the rights of the homeless.

One participant said she would never vote again if mail was the only way to go, while another suggested that the matter be put up for a vote.

“The law goes to great lengths to prohibit electioneering at polling places,” said Marie Turnberg of Port Orchard. “At the polls you come in, make your choice with no influence from anyone else. When you vote at home there are no precautions for this. Your TV may be on, your radio, newspaper, your pile of mail or your spouse over your shoulder. Maybe even a candidate or lobbyist at your door.

“Your 18-year-old doesn’t have time to vote,” she said, “so you get him to sign the back of his ballot and do his voting for him. Your aged mother can’t see to vote so you do the same for her. These are benign situations. Imagine less benign ones — political party members who ‘help’ voters in nursing homes or college dorms.”

While the board’s decision was monetary, many speakers felt this shouldn’t be an issue. The dollar sign, said Poulsbo’s Faye Henden, shouldn’t become more important than the integrity of the process.

Patrick Griffin-Hall of Port Orchard said the money saved was not worth the disenfranchisement of more than 1,000 homeless people in Kitsap.

“The postman, not being an elections official, holds no accountability,” said Cris Shardelman of Poulsbo. “If a voter throws his ballot in the postal trash, then someone else can vote it.”

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