If Yakima County commissioners approve a request from the Yakima County Auditor's Office next week, everyone in the county could be voting from the comfort of their own home by the time the 2005 general election comes around.
Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly said that on July 12 she is planning on approaching the commissioners to request that the county move to an all-mail voting system. This would mean all registered voters in the county would vote by absentee ballot for every election.
Mattingly said the county is looking to make this change now because the legislature just recently passed a measure that makes it easier for counties to move to an all-mail system. She said her office has crunched the numbers and thinks this is the best way to go. She said the only step left in the process is presenting their request to the commissioners and then notifying voters of the change.
Mattingly explained there are many factors playing into the county's desire to move to a vote by mail system. She said in 1997 the county had 10,000 absentee voters, by 2004 that number had grown to more than 62,000 absentee voters.
"The trend has totally reversed itself," Mattingly said.
She added that when the trend was to have fewer absentee voters, it cost the county more to take care of those absentee ballots. She said now that fewer people are using the polls it's costing more to take care of those voters.
Mattingly explained that Yakima County's current voting system actually includes two entirely different voting processes, absentee and poll voting. She said the two processes are running parallel to each other, and that both processes have costs associated with them.
Mattingly said moving to an all-mail voting system will save the county approximately $20,000 for every county-wide election, of which there are typically two to three a year.
As for the concern that switching to an all-mail voting system will leave more room for fraud, Mattingly said she doesn't think that's the case. Instead, she said moving to the new system would give her office more control over the election process. Mattingly explained that when dealing with a poll election, the auditor's office basically hands over control of the election to the poll workers. That won't be necessary with an all-mail system. Mattingly said her office will have control of the ballots before they are mailed out to voters and when voters return them.
Yakima County isn't the only county in the area looking to moving to an all-mail voting system. Mattingly said Kittitas County has already approved the change, while both Benton and Franklin counties are currently working to make the change.