Election night will grow into an agonizing election week as King County (Seattle) slowly and painfully counts its ballots. Almost a million ballots will be cast in King County today, but less than 400,000 will be counted by Wednesday morning. And then the ancient vote tabulating equipment used here will count another 90,000 ballots. A day.
With some luck, we’ll know the election results by … next week.
What makes this all the more painful is two major races which depend upon the votes in this County. The 8th Congressional District encompasses the eastern suburbs and is a virtual dead heat between Democrat Darcy Burner and Republican incumbent Dave Reichert. Also, in 2004 the Governor’s race was decided by 129 votes, with present Governor Chris Gregoire ultimately beating Republican Dino Rossi. This year it is the same match-up, and Governing magazine rates the race almost a toss-up. And in that 2004 election, decided by 129 votes, Gregoire received 58% of the vote in King County, the most Democratic county in the state. And the slowest to count!
I have to admit I get a thrill walking into Admiral Congregational Church here in West Seattle on election Tuesdays, walking past he American flag and the church women selling cookies, and then saying hello to Jackie and Nancy and Susan and the other poll workers. I feel so much more a part of my community and doing my civic duty than mailing an absentee ballot.
I don’t mid blackening the little bubbles on the paper ballot in the voting booth. And that paper ballot, held in my hand, and personally inserted by me into the ballot box, gives me comfort that my vote is real – and it counts.
But the trouble is, with a million ballots, you really need technology – fast, automated counting machines – to tally those ballots quickly.
And King County has machines, but they are … well … sixteen years old!
At first you might think “what sort of incompetent bureaucracy is this”? You’d be right about the incompetent bureaucracy, but it is not in King County, but at a little-known federal agency called the “Election Assistance Commission”. King County says the EAC has been slow to certify new technology, a charge echoed in Columbus Ohio, Milwaukee, Colorado and elsewhere. The Board of Advisors of the EAC, in resolution 2008-3 issued in June, also referred to the EAC’s slow certification process for new equipment.
Some Commission! Some “assistance”. “They’re from the federal government and they’re here to help.”
Personal ballot places, real pollworkers, paper ballots. Pretty similar to the workings of Democracy in the 1700’s. Maybe, next year, the Elections Assistance Administration will reach the late 20th Century.