September 30, 2021
Community Voices / Voting is what constructs a democracy: be a voter
Robin Bailey

There’s no need to dump tea in the harbor these days: American citizens make changes by being informed and exercising the right to vote. Both voting and the preservation of safe voting processes are mainstays in retaining democracy, writes a League of Women Voters commentator. (Image source: W. D. Cooper. “Boston Tea Party,” The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving. Plate opposite p. 58. Credit: Cornischong at lb.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

September 30, 2021
Community Voices / Voting is what constructs a democracy: be a voter
Robin Bailey

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Democracy requires elections. Assaults on election processes, even when strong safety controls are in place and no evidence of past fraud is apparent, are assaults on democracy. Taking away the public’s confidence in elections makes it far easier to juggle the outcome of an election.

Allegations about the integrity of the election process have raised questions about how voting is conducted. Locally, vote integrity has long been a priority of Whatcom County and it shows in the careful way every ballot is handled. The process has been developed over time with an eye for enhanced security to keep voting and counting standards high. This year is no exception. 

The entire ballot process is live-streamed by the auditor’s office and can be viewed on their website beginning on Oct. 13. Returned ballots are collected from drop boxes or received through the mail. They are placed in a sorter which takes a picture of the signature on the envelopes of the returned ballots. All signatures are checked before the ballot is counted and must match the signature the auditor’s office has on file for the voter. If the signature doesn’t match or is unsigned, efforts are made to contact the voter to correct the issue. If the issue isn’t resolved by Nov. 22, the ballot will be rejected.

After signatures are checked, ballots are removed from their envelopes to keep the identity of the voter private. The ballots are inspected, scanned and votes counted. Ballots needing adjudication or review are flagged. The images are stored on a no-internet-access system. Once scanned, they are kept in a sealed, tamper-evident bag. Tabulation will occur at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, and the preliminary results of the election are posted online shortly thereafter. Results are updated as ballots are counted. The election will be certified on Nov. 23. 

‘Does my vote count?’

“My vote will be counted accurately but does my vote really count?” Candidates, as well as those seeking approval for their favorite issues, work hard at getting community support. They fully believe in the election process. Many voters are, however, more focused on a national candidate or issue. In the 2020 national election, almost 88% of registered voters in Whatcom County returned ballots. In non-presidential election years, local participation has been lower: 56% in 2019, 77% in 2018 (a statewide election) and 45% in 2017. In 2016, another presidential election year, voter participation was high at almost 83%.

The Declaration of Independence places the duty to participate in elections on citizens. After stating that citizens have unalienable rights (among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), it also states that it is the responsibility of the governed to change the government, if necessary. The only way to make that change and retain a democracy is to vote. If we don’t like something, we can change directions peacefully by voting. Colonial protesters at the Boston Tea Party in 1773 tossed taxed goods overboard because they had no voice and had no way to participate in governing themselves. They did not have the right to vote. We do, each of us. So, when fewer of us vote in an election, we are not being governed by all of us but by those who take the time and interest. 

Voting is what constructs a democracy. Where citizens are unable to vote freely, countries are ruled by authoritarian governments. Authoritarian governments change by power passing to a person of the leader’s choice, by military coup or revolution, but not by voters.

Local elections have direct impact

As politicians like to say, “elections have consequences.” Decisions made at the local level affect us more directly. Decisions about planning, housing, police, fire, parks, transportation and public works are made locally by city, port and county elected officials. The recent decision by the Whatcom County Council to restrict new fossil fuel development at Cherry Point is an example. School boards determine curriculum to be used in their districts. State legislators also make decisions that greatly affect residents. The people who get to make those decisions, at all levels of elected office, are determined by voters.

That’s why people vote: to make changes they think are necessary by putting people in office or by voting for or against issues. 

Citizens make a difference. YOU make a difference by being informed and exercising your right to vote. Both voting and the preservation of safe voting processes are mainstays in retaining democracy. Without both, we fail at protecting that most precious gift: being able to vote as an active citizen in the country we love. 

BE A VOTER.

— Robin Bailey, League of Women Voters, Bellingham/Whatcom County

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.