Change day of elections

November 7, 2012 

The last-minute political polls suggested Thurston County voters would wake up this morning without knowing their next governor or the winners of any number of statewide and county races for elected office.

When elections come down to close votes, Washington’s system of counting ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day cannot produce definitive results. It sometimes takes days or weeks to determine winners in tight races.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has tried to persuade state lawmakers to follow the Oregon model of requiring ballots to be in hand by the Election Day deadline. Our neighbor to the south is the only other state with all-mail voting, and, unless there was a special circumstance, Oregon voters know the outcome of its elections this morning.

Washington’s all-mail ballot works well. All-mail voting is less expensive and more efficient to administer. It gives people greater access to the democratic process, especially those who are home-bound or who, for some other reason, cannot travel to a polling station.

But when races are close, the Washington system falters.

In the Thurston County election office, only about 60 percent of the ballots were counted Tuesday night. Most of the remaining ballots will arrive today and tomorrow, and by Friday 90 percent of the vote should have been tallied.

That might leave as many as 10 percent of the ballots still outstanding. In close races, as the battle between Attorney General Rob McKenna and former Congressman Jay Inslee was predicted to be, that could delay the outcome well into next week.

Washington has a high number of registered military voters deployed overseas, but the Secretary of State’s Office has made adequate provisions to email and fax those ballots to ensure timely receipt.

It takes only a majority vote in the state Legislature to reset the voting deadline. It would be a nice legacy for the retiring Reed if lawmakers did so in the next session.

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