SOUNDOFF: Voters will receive four ballots

Washington state will be voting differently in the primary this September from previous years.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the blanket primary that Washington had been using for almost 70 years to be unconstitutional because it violated the political parties' First Amendment right of association. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this decision.

The Washington legislature struggled with devising a new format for the primary election. At the very end of the 2004 session, a bill was passed that described a top-two style of primary. In anticipation of a legal challenge to that primary style, the legislature included sections that described a partisan nominating style of primary, the Montana style, to be used in case the challenge overturned the top two primary.

The challenge was never made because Gov. Locke vetoed all of the sections containing the top two primary, leaving only the Montana style primary sections, which he signed into law. The governor's veto was challenged, but the court upheld the veto, so Washington will operate under the Montana style primary this fall.

Island County will continue to use the punch card system through the end of this year. In consultation with my staff, with citizens, and with the Secretary of State, I decided that it would be best to continue using this system of voting this year because we have used this system many times and it is very familiar to Island County voters. The primary election is a major change in voting practice, and it seemed best to have only one major change at a time.

Island County will change to another voting system sometime after the 2004 General Election, but before Jan. 1, 2006, which is the deadline for eliminating punch card voting.

Voters who wish to vote at the polls will go to their regular polling place. They will be asked to sign the poll book, as usual.

The voter will be given an envelope containing four ballot cards: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Nonpartisan. The party name will be printed on the face of the ballots, a different color for each party and nonpartisan ballot.

The voter will select the ballot they wish to vote, and discard the other three into a sealed ballot box prior to entering the voting booth.

When the voter at the polls has completed marking their ballot, they will fold it over so that the party choice is hidden, and put it into the ballot box. There will be a board worker posted at the ballot box.

Absentee voters will receive four ballots, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Nonpartisan, just as the poll voters do. They will also receive ballot pages that contain the offices and the candidate names for each party, as well as the nonpartisan candidates and issues. Absentee voters will choose which ballot they wish to vote, but they may choose only one.

When they have completed voting, absentee voters will return only the ballot that they voted on. This is very important. If the voter returns more than one ballot in the pink envelope, under the new laws we cannot count any of the ballots. The Secretary of State's counsel advises that the act of returning a ballot card indicates party choice, and a voter cannot choose more than one party.

The voter should destroy any extra ballots. The extra ballots cannot be used at the polls because of the coding on the ballot card — it will be rejected by the vote tabulator. Neither can they be used by any other absentee voter because an absentee ballot must come with the oath signed by the voter, so we will know if that person has voted already or not.

The ballot pages -- at the polls or with absentee ballots -- will be marked as to party, and the voter will vote for those party races, but only for a single party. If a voter votes for a candidate of a different party, that vote will not be counted. Any other votes consistent with the party ballot chosen will still be counted -- it will not invalidate the entire ballot.

Only candidates that have filed as write-ins will be counted. This is because we must have their party affiliation in order to tabulate the votes properly. The voter may still write in a candidate, but they must be affiliated with the party ballot chosen by the voter or it will not count.

Because there will be nonpartisan candidates and issues on the September ballot, a nonpartisan ballot is being offered as one of the four ballots. It will contain nothing but nonpartisan races and issues. This is for those voters who do not wish to vote for any party candidates. Superior Court judges are examples of a nonpartisan candidate. An example of a nonpartisan issue would be a tax levy. All of the party ballots will include space to vote for the nonpartisan offices and issues, so a voter needs only one ballot for all eligible voting opportunities.

Voting in the November General Election will be the same as always -- a voter may vote for a candidate of any party. It is only the primary election that has changed.

We will be holding town halls to give people an opportunity to ask questions about the new process. Please watch the newspaper for announcements of time and location.

Some citizens are very happy with the changes, and some are very unhappy, but voting remains the very bedrock of our self-government. Participation is key! Everyone's vote counts, every single one. Voting is your voice in your community and your country. Be heard.

Suzanne Sinclair may be reached at P.O. Box 5000 Coupeville, WA 98239. Call 679-7367 or e-mail at suzannes@co.island.wa.us.

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