I miss live voting

Around three years ago, Spokane County went to an all mail-in balloting system. As I understand it, this saved money; if they hadn’t made the change, they would have to buy accessible voting machines for all 85 polling places at a cost estimated then around $500K, versus making arrangements for accessible voting as needed.

It cost us something in civic culture, though.

I miss real voting. I took my daughters with me year in and year out, to primaries and general elections and school levies and bonds, in Idaho and then in Washington. I talked with them about why we were going, why it was important. We thanked the poll workers (average age upwards of 70, most times). I saw neighbors I might not see any other time of year. We all got “I voted!” stickers and wore them all day long, and the girls often got a treat.

I asked Eldest Daughter Kate if she misses it. “I miss those stickers and the suckers. The lollipops, not the political fools. I think it’s fun. Well, not this year because it would just taunt me.” (She turns 18 right after Election Day.) “But in general it’s fun and I miss it.”

Not only that, but it has changed the entire pace of campaigns. Once upon a time, boys and girls, you learned everything you were going to learn about a candidate—good, bad, wacky, and made-up—right up until the single day on which you had the chance to act on that knowledge.

Nowadays, I know it seems as if campaigns run on and on forever and ever, especially if you watch much TV. But the poor candidates have to work feverishly (and keep pestering you with those ads, mailings and phone calls) even though they know that plenty of ballots are cast within a day or two of being received in the mail. This burst of early voting takes place even though there are still 2-3 weeks left in the campaign season, endorsements still to come out, debates still to take place, neighbors still to talk to over the back fence.

In effect, “Election Day” is now a moving target that begins roughly three weeks before the actual Election Day.

In 2005-2006 when Yes for Spokane Schools worked to help pass the last levy for Spokane Public Schools, we knew the levy vote in March 2006 would be the very first election held via all mail-in ballot in Spokane County. We had to move every single tactic up to execute three weeks earlier, while also planning to keep executing on the traditional cycle for people who cast their votes “later,” aka closer to or on Election Day.

It’s hard on volunteers to reach a fever pitch and then sustain it for three weeks. It costs more. It’s tougher to keep the calling lists current—maybe your vote has been cast but your name is still on the list of those who haven’t voted because it takes a while to churn the data, so you keep getting those GOTV calls.

Every campaign faces this marathon. We’ll face it again this coming year, for the levy and bond campaign that Spokane Public Schools desperately needs.

I won’t get my sticker, but I’ll vote anyway. And when Kate said sadly, “I can’t vote in the presidential election,” she then perked up and said, “But I’ll be able to vote for the levy and bond!” That’s my girl.