By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Voters in Pierce County will get their first crack at a new way of voting in the upcoming primary election, but they won’t use it much.
The Clear Vote system, as it’s named by the company that designed it, was purchased by the county earlier this year for nearly $800,000. The most visible change for voters is that they will fill in an oval space on ballots next to the names of the candidates they’re choosing. That’s an easier mark to make than previous ballots that required voters to “connect the arrow” for their choices, election officials claim.
They said it also will be easier to count because the new digital scanning and tabulation of ballots will replace older, less efficient optical scanning. The upgraded scanners are expected to reduce the number of unreadable ballots in past elections that required manual handling, which slowed down the reporting of results and added to the overall cost of elections, according to Auditor Julie Anderson, who oversees elections for Pierce County.
The new system probably won’t get much of a workout in its debut. In south Pierce County, for instance, voters will find only one countywide race on their ballots for the primary election. That’s for Tacoma Port Commissioner. The only other contest in this part of the county is for South Pierce Fire and Rescue Commissioner and will be confined to voters in that fire district.
The county elections department will mail ballots to registered voters on July 14, meaning voting can start as early as this weekend. It will end Aug. 1, the last day ballots can be turned in by mail or at official dropboxes.
Voters who don’t receive a ballot by July 21 should contact the elections department at pcelections@co.pierce.wa.us or 253-798-8683, said Auditor Julie Anderson, who oversees elections for the county.
Primary elections traditionally have light voting in Pierce County. In the past four years alone, the voter turnout was 31 percent in 2016, 20 percent in 2015, 27 percent in 2014, and 19 percent in 2013.
For the system that’s supposed to improve the casting and counting of ballots, Pierce County paid Clear Ballot, the Boston, Mass.-based manufacturer of Clear Vote, $790,400 for the equipment, software, licensing and installation of the system.
Pierce is the first county in Washington to use the Clear Vote system. Either the full system or its election audits component are also in use in Oregon, New York, Vermont, Florida and Maryland.
Anderson and her staff introduced Clear Vote to Pierce voters at an open house March 30 at the county elections center in Tacoma. Voters were invited to participate in hands-on demonstrations of the system.