Washington Secretary of State asking Legislature to move primary up two weeks to early August

Secretary of State Sam Reed is asking the Legislature to move Washington’s Primary Election two weeks earlier, to early August, to ensure that Washington complies with a new federal law requiring military ballots to be mailed 45 days before Election Day.

The following is a release from the Secretary of State’s office.

Secretary of State Sam Reed is asking the Legislature to move Washington’s Primary Election two weeks earlier, to early August, to ensure that Washington complies with a new federal law requiring military ballots to be mailed 45 days before Election Day.

“We make it a high priority to give Washington’s military voters ample time to fill out and return their ballots, and moving the Primary date up two weeks would assure that we follow the new federal law to make sure our military and overseas voters receive their ballots in a timely manner,” Reed said.

Changing the primary date is a key part of the bill that also would count military and overseas ballots that are returned by fax or e-mail, as long as the signed declaration accompanies the ballot and the signature is verified.

The primary date change is the cornerstone of a package of elections-related bills that Reed is requesting legislators to enact during the 2011 session. The Secretary of State’s other elections measures include:

  • Establishing Washington as a full vote-by-mail state, meaning that Pierce County would join the rest of the state in conducting its elections strictly by mail.
  • Requiring absentee and mail ballots to be received by each county elections office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, rather than just postmarked no later than Election Day.
  • Reed and Gov. Chris Gregoire have jointly requested the Legislature to suspend the 2012 Washington Presidential Primary, which would save the state budget $10 million as legislators work to fix a $4.6 billion budget deficit. Reed said the plan includes a provision that makes sure the state’s Presidential Primary resumes in 2016.

Other proposals in the package offered by Reed’s office include giving corporations and other entities more options in how they receive notifications from the Secretary of State’s Corporations and Charities Division, and making changes to the law affecting Washington’s charities community.

This year’s 105-day legislative session begins January 10.

Moving Primary date and helping military voters

Reed said Washington needs to move the state’s Primary Election to the first Tuesday in August to comply with the Military & Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, passed by Congress in 2009. The Primary date must be earlier because the MOVE Act requires military and overseas ballots to be mailed 45 days before November’s Election Day instead of Washington’s current law of 30 days before Election Day.

“Last year, our state was able to receive a waiver from the Department of Defense and Department of Justice that allowed us to mail our military-voter ballots when we would normally, but federal officials made it clear that we shouldn’t count on getting that waiver in the future, so we need to move up the Primary to follow the MOVE Act,” Reed said.

In 2010, Reed asked legislators to allow military and overseas voters to return ballots by fax or e-mail rather than by slower surface mail. That measure was unanimously passed by the House before failing to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Military and overseas voters have repeatedly asked for the ability to scan and return their ballots by e-mail,” said Reed, noting that 20 other states use this approach and that it’s working well for them. “When you’re a soldier stationed in the hills of Afghanistan or on a ship in the middle of the ocean, you don’t have much time to mail back your ballot, so this bill provides a modern, practical solution that allows military voters to return their ballots in a timely way.”

This proposal, prime-sponsored by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, is expected to receive a bill number Friday and be referred to the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee.

Making elections vote-by-mail

This measure calls for all elections in Washington to be conducted by mail. Currently, all counties but Pierce County conduct only vote-by-mail elections. Poll-site voters comprised only about 10 percent of the total number of Pierce County voters taking part in last November’s election, and less than 2 percent of the state’s total vote.

“The state has to manage two separate sets of elections laws, which complicates the process for both Pierce County and the state, including voter outreach information,” said Reed, who pointed out that Pierce County has to spend large amounts of money to maintain poll voting. “In recent years, it’s become more clear that poll voting is an inefficient and ineffective way to get more people to vote in our elections. It’s time for Pierce County to join the rest of the state.”

The bill, prime-sponsored by state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, is expected to receive a bill number Friday. It probably will receive a public hearing in the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee next week.

Changing ballot due date

Reed said requiring ballots to be received by election night to be counted would allow results for many races to be finalized sooner.

“Our current postmark deadline has become antiquated. We would have much more definitive results by the Thursday or Friday after Election Day by changing this deadline,” said Reed, pointing out that the current postmark deadline means that a large percentage of ballots arrive at elections offices after Election Day. “Virtually all of the ballots would be counted by Friday.”

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system requires that ballots reach elections officials by Election Day.

Following last November’s General Election, Oregon had counted 96 percent of its ballots by the Thursday after Election Day, compared to only 73 percent for Washington.

“Oregon’s Election Day deadline has worked very well there. In fact, their voter turnout has been just as high as ours in recent years, if not better,” Reed said.

The bill would make an exception for military and overseas voters, as their ballots would have to be signed no later than Election Day and received prior to when an election is certified.

The Senate version of the ballot due date bill, prime-sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, likely will be introduced by the end of next week.

Making it easier to notify corporations

House Bill 1040 would allow the Secretary of State to send registration renewal notices to domestic and foreign profit and nonprofit corporations, corporation soles, charitable organizations and commercial fundraiser by either postal mail or e-mail. Under current law, the notices must be sent only by postal mail.

“This change would not mandate notification by e-mail, it would only allow it if the corporation chooses to receive notices electronically,” Reed explained. “Some organizations might prefer to receive notices electronically, so this bill would give them that choice.”

The measure also would allow local and state agencies more options in choosing to use different types of electronic signatures. Reed said current law is outdated and requires government agencies to use only a digital certificate issued by a certification authority licensed by the Office of Secretary of State to sign something electronically. This has limited agencies from developing new and less expensive ways to conduct public business.

Prime-sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, HB 1040 will receive a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee next Monday at 1:30 p.m.

A Senate companion bill will be introduced next week.

Making changes to charities law

Reed plans to offer legislation that would make several changes to the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act, which governs how commercial fundraisers and charitable organizations raise funds from the public.

One of the proposal’s main objectives is to eliminate the requirement that charities submit copies of their annual return, known as the Form 990, to the state when registering. Another key change would prohibit commercial fundraisers from collecting donations in person under certain conditions.

“A telemarketer who has received a pledge from a donor cannot send a courier to pick up the donation. We want donors to have ample time to conduct research, if needed, to make an informed decision. The donor is not obligated to follow through with the donation if something doesn’t sit right. A courier coming to the door puts the potential donor on the spot,” Reed said.

The bill would not increase registration fees under the Charitable Solicitations Act.

The charities reform bill will be introduced later in January.