Guest opinion: New voting system holds up on election night

Whew.

Tuesday’s (Aug. 6) primary marked the electoral debut of VoteWa and the sparkling new statewide election management system didn’t crash nor suffer a full-on high-tech belly flop as a few county auditors publicly and privately fretted it might.

No enemy, foreign or domestic, attempted to meddle in any contests. If they had, the system’s bulked up cybersecurity defenses would have kicked in and alerted election officials.

In other words, things worked out pretty much as Secretary of State Kim Wyman hoped.

“Overall, I’m really happy with the VoteWa system and how our counties used it,” she said last week. “I think it will exponentially change the way they do business in a positive way. This system is really going to put Washington into a great position for the 2020 cycle and beyond.”

This primary also marked the premiere of a new law allowing eligible citizens to register to vote and cast a ballot on the day of an election.

Democratic lawmakers used their majorities in the House and Senate to pass it in 2018, believing they were tearing down one of the final barriers to political participation.

Alas, it was pretty much ignored around the state. Only 257 people had used it as of 5 p.m. on Election Day, according to figures gathered through VoteWa, Wyman said.

“It was a very, very low number, kind of a dip-your-toe-in-the-water experience,” she said.

In Snohomish County, one man seemed to have done it by accident, not design. He walked into the auditor’s office in Everett and asked to enlist in the ranks of voters. That’s when he learned it was Election Day, officials said. He gladly accepted a ballot and voted.

The situation should be different in November 2020 when the nation elects a president. People will likely flock to auditors’ offices to take advantage of same-day registration. These will be the ones who wake up on Election Day and think, ‘Darn, I’m not registered’ and then find out it’s not too late. No doubt, some political organization will have a shuttle (or Uber or Lyft) waiting to take them to the nearest auditor office if they want.

It’s not shocking unregistered voters didn’t swarm auditor’s offices. Odd-year primaries rarely incite large-scale outbreaks of civic participation — even among those already on the voter rolls.

Which is an issue worth addressing.

Lawmakers, especially Democrats, have spent a great deal of energy the last few years making it impossibly easy to become a voter. Now, it seems they should direct energy to getting more of them to cast ballots.

On Tuesday, across the state, a minority of voters once again carried out the task of winnowing the field of candidates and determining the fate of fiscal measures in their communities.

In Snohomish County, for example, where the stakes included the future composition of the County Council as well as several city councils and school boards, turnout is expected to top out at around 25 percent. That mark would be better than some previous years.

What might help boost the turnout?

Lawmakers could tackle the problem of election fatigue. Eliminating elections in February and April — which won’t please school districts and fire districts — would get voters thinking that they will be called into action just twice a year.

Moving the primary earlier, ahead of the summer season when one’s civic resolve melts under the glare of the sun, is another idea that’s been around for awhile.

Legislators aren’t fans because it could seriously crimp their ability to raise money in years when they are on the ballot. That’s not an easy nut to crack. If they truly want to boost participation in every election — which Democrats talk about a lot — it’s something to tackle.

For now, sit back and wait for the rest of the ballots in this election to be counted.

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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