Republicans want ballots out on time

Washington should have to meet the same deadlines as other states for sending ballots to its 60,000 voters living or deployed overseas, the state Republican Party says.

The state obtained an exemption last week from a new federal requirement to send military and overseas ballots 45 days before the Nov. 2 election.

Republicans cried foul in a resolution their state committee approved Saturday: “Failure to comply with this federal law will almost certainly result in disenfranchising the votes of our brave men and women serving in the military, who risk their lives protecting the voting rights of all Americans.”

But Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office, which applied for the waiver, says Washington’s unusual election calendar allows nearly all ballots to return from even far-flung locations in time to be counted. In the past two elections, 99 percent of overseas ballots sent back were counted.

“We believe we have one of the strongest programs in the country for overseas and military voters, and that we provide opportunities above and beyond most states,” Elections Director Nick Handy said.

But because of its late Aug. 17 primary, officials say they can’t be sure they’ll meet the Sept. 18 deadline set up by Congress in the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

The state won’t certify results from the primary until Tuesday, leaving just 11 days to design and print millions of ballots in hundreds of styles, Handy said.

Still, many counties will meet the deadline – even Pierce County, with its heavy military presence and 9,050 overseas voters.

Other large counties could still miss the federal deadline, Handy said. Election officials wanted to be safe.

Their decision has drawn controversy. After states like Washington with August and September primaries applied for waivers, Fox News began a drumbeat of questioning over whether troops would be disenfranchised.

Calls poured in after the segments aired, Handy said. “The phone call would usually begin, ‘Why do you hate military voters?’” he said.

Callers ended up satisfied with elections officials’ explanation, he said.

Republican state committeeman Thomas Swanson isn’t. He said the exemption seems to have been sought to avoid inconveniencing government officials, who should be going “above and beyond” their legal requirements to make sure troops can vote.

“I haven’t seen a compelling case made that this (waiver) was absolutely necessary,” Swanson said.

People from across the political spectrum have alleged that thousands of military voters have been disenfranchised across the country in past elections.

After the 2008 election, U.S. Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., put out a report saying in seven military-heavy states, including Washington, 25 percent of military voters who requested ballots were disenfranchised.

At least for Washington, those numbers are skewed because the state doesn’t use a request system to send out ballots. All the state’s registered voters overseas are mailed a ballot.

In 2008 in Washington, overseas voters’ turnout was recorded as 73 percent in 2008, less than the 85 percent seen statewide. But 99 percent of those who did vote were counted, according to Reed’s office.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics