It is totally ridiculous that 10% or more of Washington state primary ballots for partisan races can be invalid. It smacks of incompetence and neglect both at the county and state level.
As reported this week in the Seattle PI and in the Seattle Times a sampling of Snohomish County’s ballots were showing up to 20% invalid for partisan races. Other counties absentee ballots were running at 10% invalid in Pierce County, 7% in Clark County, 11% in Clallam County, 5% in King County and 12% in Chelan.
The problem is that 25 of Washington’s 39 counties use a consolidated mail in ballot for the primary in which all candidates are listed. Looking at King County’s ballot I can see why voters may be confused. Maybe it’s because the layout and use of words is confusing. Did no one ever test the ballot design to see if people understood it or if it was clear? Were problems in the previous two primary elections merely ignored even though they had a high invalid rate?
The ballot is divided into lots of boxes. The section that says “PARTY PREFERENCE” is in a box by itself asking you to “vote for one” , then has an oval for for you to fill in for DEMOCRATIC or REPUBLICAN.
A message that says “If you do not select a party preference or if you select more than one party, your votes for partisan contests will not count.” is in a separate box above it. There is also a box below it saying your” selection is private and no record of your choice is maintained.”
Design wise this is very cluttered. And then you are asked for your party preference. Why not something simpler like “Pick the party primary you want to vote in.” or “Mark here which political party primary you want to vote in.” The word preference is not very strong and is actually confusing. A Webster’s College Dictionary says preference means the act of preferring. The word prefer is first defined as “to set or hold before or above other persons and things in estimation; like better: I prefer school to work.”
So I am being asked to estimate which party I like better? What if I like neither party. Is this an opinion poll question? Or is this some kind of intelligence test to see if I can make a decision based on multiple meanings for a word and connect things said in different boxes before I fill in an oval.
And to top it off the vote for “PARTY PREFERENCE” does not have a colored section above it like 2 party sections do and also the nonpartisan races and measure. But a block below it in a colored block it says “For Democratic Preference Start Voting Here . Did you notice something peculiar. Namely the words – “Start Voting Here”
The Bottom Line: With such a high rate of invalid ballots and with the possible confusion, I urge the Secretary of State to show some leadership, and for his office to direct that in all cases where voters have clearly only marked for candidates in one party or the other, that they ignore the confusing “preference” designation and bad ballot design and count those votes.
It is not acceptable to run an election and have that many ballots discounted. The question is, can the Secretary of State put aside his bias for open primaries and opposition to party designations and do the right thing. After all it is his job to insure that voters votes count. Votes should not be tossed out because of poor design and oversight on absentee ballots on a problem that they have been aware of now for two previous elections.