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Originally published Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Restoring public trust in the election process

The debate over the 2004 governor's race is an opportunity to improve the way Washington votes. Anyone looking for a cure-all to the trials...

Special to The Times

The debate over the 2004 governor's race is an opportunity to improve the way Washington votes.

Anyone looking for a cure-all to the trials of this historically close contest will come up empty-handed. No single solution exists.

But passing a series of meaningful reform proposals now will not only overhaul outdated laws and clarify recount rules. It will also help restore public trust. What could be more important?

First, Washington must move up the date of the primary or we will one day face a real train wreck.

Typically, there are only seven weeks between the September primary and the November general election. In that time, administrators must certify primary results, administer recounts, address election challenges, hire election board workers and test voting equipment.

Many of our state's larger counties are finalizing and mailing out voters pamphlets. After certification and within 19 days, all counties prepare, print and mail ballots for the upcoming November election. This narrow, seven-week window only invites human error. Imagine if the trials of the governor's race had played out in last September's primary.

Second, we should give counties the option to vote entirely by mail. This policy answers the public call for similar voting equipment across the state. It would do away with provisional ballots altogether since those special ballots are only issued at poll sites.

Additionally, voters who cast ballots at home tend to vote more carefully and make fewer mistakes on the ballot. Mail voters have an opportunity to be better informed on the issues and the candidates since they can study their voters pamphlets and candidates' literature at their leisure.

Third, the 2005 Legislature must prohibit third parties from collecting or returning absentee and provisional ballot signature affidavits. To have partisans on the hunt for select votes in the middle of an election cycle sets a dangerous precedent and erodes public trust. This job is designed for nonpartisan, trained election workers who will ensure that every ballot is counted without regard for political preferences.

Fourth, Washington must clean up technical laws that guide county canvassing boards — those entities charged by law with the responsibility of determining voter intent — through questionable ballots. These amended laws must clearly define a "signature match" and ensure that only canvassing boards (no other delegated authority) reject ballots. The law must clarify that recanvassing an election is to address election-worker error, not voter mistakes.

Finally, my office should receive the necessary resources to conduct a review of every county's election procedures and equipment every three years and to improve training for election workers. Reviews and additional training will provide counties with a clear road map to solve and prevent problems.

Like most controversy, the debate over the Dino Rossi-Christine Gregoire race has created opportunity. I'm calling on our Legislature to capitalize on it and pass this historic reform package.

Sam Reed is Washington's secretary of state. More information on his election reform proposals is at www.secstate.wa.gov

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