NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Kim Wyman wants to cancel the April special election; NPI’s Gael Tarleton says postpone it

Coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials in Wash­ing­ton are about to fin­ish tab­u­lat­ing bal­lots in the state’s ground­break­ing March 10th pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, in which more than two mil­lion vot­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed. Once they do that, though, they’ll have to turn around and mail out bal­lots to those vot­ers in a juris­dic­tion with some­thing on the bal­lot dur­ing the April 2020 spe­cial elec­tion win­dow allowed by state law.

Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman, the state’s top elec­tions offi­cial, has con­clud­ed that it would be bet­ter if the April spe­cial elec­tion were not held due to the rapid­ly wors­en­ing coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. This week, she sent a let­ter to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee urg­ing him to can­cel the April spe­cial elec­tion.

Her let­ter was cosigned by most of the state’s coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials.

“While pub­lic con­tact in an elec­tion is great­ly reduced because Wash­ing­ton is a vote-by-mail state, the staffing require­ments to con­duct an elec­tion remain,” Wyman wrote. “The uncer­tain­ty of the impact of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic could dra­mat­i­cal­ly impair a coun­ty’s abil­i­ty to per­form its statu­to­ry duties in an elec­tion.”

Wyman’s chief con­cern is that a coun­ty elec­tions office might have to shut down if some­body tests pos­i­tive for the nov­el coro­n­avirus.

“[A] pos­i­tive COVID-19 diag­no­sis for an elec­tions staff per­son could result in elec­tion offices being shut down for clean­ing while the elec­tion is in progress and facil­i­ties are full of live bal­lots that require secu­ri­ty,” Wyman the­o­rized. “Addi­tion­al­ly, elec­tion offi­cials can­not safe­ly assist vot­ers in per­son while pro­tect­ing their staff by main­tain­ing social dis­tanc­ing required to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

That’s true, but can­cel­ing the April 28th spe­cial elec­tion would be prob­lem­at­ic because a num­ber of local gov­ern­ments have already used their statu­to­ry author­i­ty to sub­mit mea­sures to the vot­ers for their con­sid­er­a­tion.

If the elec­tion is nev­er held, what hap­pens to those mea­sures?

Wyman and elec­tions offi­cials argue that “these elec­tions [mean­ing, the levy and bond mea­sures that were sub­mit­ted] can be resched­uled by the boards of each juris­dic­tion for August 4th or Novem­ber 3rd, at their dis­cre­tion.”

Okay, but pre­sum­ably the boards of those juris­dic­tions sub­mit­ted mea­sures for the April 28th date because they did­n’t want them to appear on the August or Novem­ber bal­lots when oth­er mat­ters are being con­sid­ered. If those juris­dic­tions want­ed August or Novem­ber, they could have picked August or Novem­ber.

At NPI, we believe that the Feb­ru­ary and April spe­cial elec­tion win­dows should be per­ma­nent­ly elim­i­nat­ed and replaced with a sched­ule that pro­vides for elec­tions in May and Novem­ber (the August Top Two elec­tion would move to May).

Cur­rent­ly, how­ev­er, state law allows a local gov­ern­ment to sub­mit mea­sures to the bal­lot in Feb­ru­ary or April. Those are the rules. And until the rules are changed by the Leg­is­la­ture, elec­tions offi­cials should try to hon­or them.

Even in an emer­gency.

NPI’s Gael Tar­leton, who is chal­leng­ing Wyman for Sec­re­tary of State, argues that a bet­ter solu­tion would be to post­pone the April spe­cial elec­tion, not can­cel it.

“Dic­ta­tor­ships can­cel elec­tions. Democ­ra­cies don’t. Our vote-by-mail sys­tem should enable us to pro­tect both elec­tion work­ers and our democ­ra­cy,” Tar­leton said in a news release. “Peo­ple need to know that their voice still counts. Our Leg­is­la­ture must help fire dis­tricts, schools and util­i­ties get the fund­ing they need to keep our com­mu­ni­ties oper­a­tional and safe. It’s the job of a leader to ensure democ­ra­cy doesn’t die in a cri­sis and while we keep our work­ers safe.”

Per­haps what would make more sense is attempt­ing to resched­ule the April spe­cial elec­tion to June. That would give elec­tions offi­cials more time to pre­pare and devel­op plans to pro­tect elec­tion work­ers, and the elec­tion could still be held sep­a­rate­ly from the oth­er elec­tions sched­uled to be held lat­er this year.

School dis­tricts face unique bud­get­ing con­straints because the school year is dif­fer­ent from the cal­en­dar year. Because the Leg­is­la­ture still does­n’t pro­vide suf­fi­cient fund­ing to school dis­tricts, they remain depen­dent on vot­er approved levies and bond mea­sures to remain fis­cal­ly healthy. Any dis­trict that was count­ing on pas­sage of a levy mea­sure next month could be grave­ly harmed by Wyman’s pro­pos­al.

Speak­ing of elec­tion secu­ri­ty and good hygiene… let’s start work­ing now on plans for pro­cure­ment of bet­ter bal­lot return envelopes. Reforms are need­ed to improve the secu­ri­ty and safe­ty of our vote-at-home sys­tem. NPI advo­cates the fol­low­ing:

  • Return bal­lot envelopes should have self-adhe­sive seals so that vot­ers don’t have to lick or moist­en them. Self-seal­ing envelopes are com­mer­cial­ly avail­able. There are two main types: peel ‘n stick (exam­ple) and flip ‘n stick (exam­ple). They cost more, but the cost is well worth it.
  • The sig­na­ture line should be moved to the bal­lot secu­ri­ty enve­lope and the secu­ri­ty enve­lope made manda­to­ry. This way, peo­ple’s sig­na­tures, tele­phone num­bers, email address­es, and par­ty dec­la­ra­tions (in pres­i­den­tial pri­maries) do not appear on the out­side of the pack­et.

Gov­er­nor Inslee has just signed a bill to require that bal­lot return envelopes state the date of the elec­tion, which is some­thing else that was on our wish list. Thanks, Gov­er­nor Inslee! And thanks to the prime spon­sor, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Melanie Mor­gan, for bring­ing the bill. You can watch my tes­ti­mo­ny in sup­port from TVW.

If you would like to read Wyman’s let­ter in full, it’s below.

Let­ter request­ing can­cel­la­tion of April spe­cial elec­tion

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One Comment

  1. Wyman and the audi­tors clear­ly did not con­sult with the school dis­tricts before they asked Inslee to pull the plug on the April elec­tion.

    Cit­ing con­cerns over the health of elec­tions work­ers, Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman ear­li­er this week called on Gov. Jay Inslee to can­cel all spe­cial elec­tions sched­uled in April.

    But school dis­trict admin­is­tra­tors wor­ry that if vot­ers won’t have the chance to pass levies and bonds this spring, it could hurt schools.

    North Mason School Dis­trict Super­in­ten­dent Dana Rosen­bach said los­ing the April levy would cause her to lay off teach­ers this fall.

    “It would result in prob­a­bly close to $4 mil­lion in cuts, most of which would be lay­offs,” Rosen­bach said.

    Even a post­pone­ment could be prob­lem­at­ic, but as you note, a post­pone­ment would be prefer­able to a can­cel­la­tion.

    # by Jim "Rocky" Hill :: March 21st, 2020 at 6:25 PM

One Ping

  1. […] Wyman had actu­al­ly called for the elec­tion to be can­celed alto­geth­er, not post­poned, but even a post­pone­ment has been ruled out. […]

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