Off The Press

October 22, 2008

By Jim Feehan

Vote early and often, but not if you’re dead

My wife and I have been deluged by political pollsters and automated calls from candidates to the point where we have turned off the phone for the past month. Now, if only I could tune out all of the negative attack ads on TV.

Jim Feehan

The time and money spent for the negative television ads and get-out-the-vote pleas from political campaigns are all for naught because my wife and I voted Oct. 17, when our ballots arrived in the mail.

Whether you cast your ballot by mail, or you’re among the dying breed of poll site voters, the Nov. 4 election is important. And every vote is important. Twelve years ago, a fire district levy in Granite Falls won by one vote. The levy helped pay for a new fire engine for the rural district in Snohomish County.

This year’s gubernatorial race could be another nail biter. Based on the primary results, two Issaquah legislative races (Steve Litzow and Marcie Maxwell in the 41st District and Glenn Anderson and David Spring in the 5th District) could be close, too.

Early voting by absentee ballot has changed the dynamics of the election process. While we’ll still be waiting anxiously for election results the night of Nov. 4, several voters will have cast their ballots long before Halloween.

For an increasing number of Americans, voting at the precinct place on Election Day is a historical relic. Next year, Washington moves to all voting by mail. Oregonians have been voting exclusively by mail since 1998. By the way, in Oregon, ballots have to be in the hands of election officials Election night, unlike Washington, where ballots must bear a postmark of Election Day and slowly trickle in in dribbles and drabs.

For years, I relished waking up early and being the first person to the polls at 7 a.m. My neighbor, Mr. Pleas, and I would take turns being the first voter in our precinct. Some years, he would be the first to vote in the primary and I’d be the first for the general election. Being a morning person, I fulfilled my civic duty early in the day and avoided the long lines after 5 p.m. I enjoyed visiting neighbors at the poll site, even those who threw a coat over their pajamas.

But when you get down to it, voting is an individualized act, not a community experience. For the most part, ballots are now cast at the individual’s convenience and mailed, or deposited at ballot drop boxes. Critics of vote by mail say ballots sent through the mail might be filled out by someone other than the legal voter and without the privacy of the ballot booth; a voter could be coerced or unduly influenced.

These concerns were heightened when Chris Gregoire beat Dino Rossi by just 133 votes in the 2004 election, which was decided after three counts and a court challenge. Those contesting the results pointed to absentee ballots as a source of some of the problems, including people casting absentee ballots for their dead relatives.

But vote by mail has been successful in Oregon for a decade now and free from controversy. The mandatory signature-checking process combined with other tracking and safety measures insures a relatively high level of ballot integrity.

Conversely, fewer poll workers seem to know the names and faces of their neighbors showing up at the precincts, and this level of anonymity makes showing up at the polls no longer a significant check against voter fraud. While voters do have to sign a book at the precinct, the signatures are not checked until after the election.

Unlike Florida in 2000, Washington has had a clean, open and permeable election system with no history of machine politics or election fraud.

So, vote early and often. And if you’re voting from the grave, shame on you.

Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or

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