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County Council delays vote on voting machines
Council members decide to hold out until March

By Jeff Switzer and Jerry Cornfield    Everett Herald    15 September 2005

EVERETT - A proposal to spend $1 million to keep the county's voting machines legal was temporarily shelved by the Snohomish County Council in a unanimous vote Wednesday.

Instead, further discussion will wait until 2006 after the state Legislature meets, council members said.

State law requires the voting devices - called voter verifiable paper audit trail machines - to be in place by Jan. 1 for electronic voting machines such as those used in Snohomish County.

The county would need 875 machines, at a cost of more than $1 million. However, the devices aren't expected to be certified by election regulators until next year.

To avoid the purchase, county officials considered switching to all-mail ballot elections.

During a hearing Wednesday, Rebecca Wolfe of Edmonds criticized voting machines as untrustworthy and said spending $1 million to keep them legal was fiscally reckless.

"What will be sacrificed in the county budget so 30 percent of voters can vote by machine?" Wolfe said.

On the other side of the debate, John Morrison of Granite Falls defended polling-place voting.

"I'm going to go to my community center, get my Republican ballot, go in and vote," Morrison said. "I'm going to get the little sticker and walk around and feel good about being an American."

All-mail ballot elections are supported by county Executive Aaron Reardon, county Auditor Bob Terwilliger and County Councilman Kirke Sievers. Councilman Dave Gossett said although he supports poll voting, the cost of the machines necessary for poll voting is too high.

Republican County Council members Gary Nelson, John Koster and Jeff Sax said they support a combination of polling places - used by 39 percent of voters - and absentee ballots.

Sax said he regrets approving the purchase of $5 million in electronic voting machines in 2002, and suggested the county consider returning to the days of poll voting with paper ballots.

"That's probably the best way to have an honest election," Sax said.

The Legislature came close to requiring all 39 counties in the state to switch to all-mail elections in the this year's session. Instead, legislators made it optional, and 30 counties now hold all-mail elections, with two more seeking voter feedback on the November ballot.

Snohomish County Council members said they want to see if the Legislature forces the issue in 2006, and scheduled discussion of the $1 million purchase for March 8, the day before the end of the legislative session.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said Wednesday that he does not plan to seek legislation to make all-mail ballot voting a statewide mandate.

Reed said there may come a "tipping point" when such a law would be sought, citing the all-mail ballots in 30 counties.

Last year, some lawmakers wanted to make the switch. Reed supported the final legislation that made it easier for counties to switch, but did not require it.

Terwilliger said the state law requiring the paper audit devices has no specific penalties if Snohomish County fails to comply.

State Rep. Toby Nixon, the Republican leader who is helping to reform election policies in the state House, said failure to meet the Jan. 1 deadline to install the devices could result in a felony charge.

Terwilliger said he's stuck. He can neither force the Snohomish County Council to switch to all-mail elections, nor can he purchase devices until they are approved.

Technically, the county shouldn't use the electronic voting machines next year without paper audit devices, Terwilliger said. To buy more time, he said he plans to ask school districts to consider all-mail elections in the spring.

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