Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

HB 1604 and the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot

House Bill 1604 would add a new section to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) which could be intended to authorize use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) for state and local elections.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 16 (1) If the voter returns voting responses by mail on any form other than the ballot sent, the votes on it are acceptable and will be tallied under the following conditions:
(a) Only votes for offices or measures for which the voter is eligible are counted;
(b) The candidate or measure response position for which the voter is voting can be clearly identified;
(c) The ballot issued is not returned, or if returned, contains no marks or punches indicating an attempt to vote it;
(d) A valid signature on an absentee oath is on file with the county auditor.
The votes accepted must then be duplicated to a ballot that can be read by the electronic voting equipment as prescribed in section 19 of this act.
I haven’t come across a similar provision in any other pending bill.

I don't know what it means when it says, "a valid signature on an absentee oath is on file with the county auditor." Is the oath on the FWAB envelope not sufficient?

Wouldn't it be nice if our legislators would say that this new section is intended to authorize use of the FWAB, if that is what they intend? If the oath on the FWAB envelope isn't sufficient, wouldn't it be nice if they made it acceptable by including such a provision in the law?

As discussed previously, the FWAB would provide a last chance for an overseas voter to cast a ballot in Washington's state and local elections when the voter’s requested absentee ballot hasn’t arrived in time to allow the voter to return it by the deadline.

If Washington does change to a rule which requires receipt of absentee ballots by 8 P.M. on election day, and doesn’t authorize later receipt for overseas voters, then the FWAB will truly be needed more than ever.

The FWAB is stockpiled overseas, where voters – both military and civilian – can obtain one, complete it, and mail it to their state or county election officials.

While e-mail or fax transmissions may allow overseas voters to submit ballots in many cases, the FWAB would allow voting when those electronic means aren’t available.

Washington has had years to authorize use of the FWAB by law.

Instead, we have a peculiar interpretation of RCW 29A.40.050 which isn’t made known to the voters (or anyone for that matter) in written statutes, regulations, or even on the secretary of state’s web site.

Apparently, some county elections officials do accept the FWAB as a way to cast votes in state and local elections, if the secretary of state’s office is correct. But, which counties do so?

Here is an example of the kind of ambiguous information provided to voters on the Kitsap County Auditor’s web page:

Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot
Federal Write-In Absentee ballots may be used by military and overseas civilian voters residing outside the United States if their regular absentee ballot has not been received in a timely manner.

These ballots can be obtained from your Installation Voting Officer or from any US Embassy or Consular Office or you may request the write-in ballot directly from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

These ballots must be received in the Auditor’s Office by 9:00 am prior to certification of the election, which occurs 10 days after the Primary and 15 days after the General Election.

These ballots are only accepted in Primary and General elections when federal candidates are on the ballot.

The Federal Write-In ballot will be accepted only if you are outside the United States.

The Federal Write-In absentee ballot cannot be used as an application to register to vote in Washington State.
Does the sentence I emphasized with bold print mean the FWAB can be used to vote for state and local elective offices and measures when there happens to be a federal election on the ballot, or does it only mean the FWAB can be used to vote in elections for federal offices as federal law requires?

The federal Voting Assistance Guide doesn’t say that Washington accepts the FWAB for state and local elections, and neither does anything in Washington law.

It is long past the time when this gap in our election laws should have been corrected.


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