Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein has been unequivocal: She doesn't think there's any reason to be concerned about the ballot envelopes the Elections Department began using last year, with the voter's signature exposed on the back.
More than 100 voters have complained, however. They were mainly concerned that the new envelopes left them vulnerable to identity theft. Adelstein had hoped to take a more scientific survey of public opinion before discussing the matter with County Council, but the discussion has already been scheduled -- it's item No. 2 on the Finance and Administrative Services Committee's agenda, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6.
Adelstein's decisions trump anything the council might want to see happen in her office because she, too, is an elected official. (The County Council only oversees her office's budget, not how it spends that money.) Adelstein said she will talk to council about the exposed-signature controversy more or less as a courtesy. After all, council members often are the first people citizens think of when they want to complain about something government is doing.
Council member Barbara Brenner is on the record as sympathizing with critics of the exposed-signature ballot envelopes. I look forward to a good back-and-forth on the topic close to noon tomorrow.
Whatever the drift of the meeting, the exposed-signature envelopes will continue to be used this year. Adelstein has said she will continue to monitor complaints, starting with primary elections in August.
Here is part of Adelstein's statement on the pubic's concern about the exposed signatures, sent via email to The Bellingham Herald on April 18 and printed in a previous post in the Politics Blog:
... Thirty-five (35) of the 38 other counties in Washington state had made this move [to this type of envelope] prior to us. And based on the outcomes that they had experienced we decided to make the move as well. (Two of the other three remaining counties will be making that move in the near future.) While there were cost considerations and process improvements realized, we did not flippantly disregard the privacy of the voters. This is the style of envelope that we had used in Whatcom County for many, many years. Whether the signature is covered or not, someone wanting to do nefarious things could just steal any ballot envelope and have that signature! And the risk of that occurring needs to be weighed against the number of times one’s signature is out in the public in many other ways, such as credit card receipts, checks submitted for payment, online purchases, or whatever. The statistics of where identity theft occurs is not on ballot envelopes. ... Utilizing secure mail boxes and ballot drop boxes available throughout the county would be an alternative to anyone who has a concern. ...