One sure sign that fall is easing into winter is that political types are complaining about how long it takes to count ballots in Washington state.
This rant usually starts about three days after an election, when the results of most races have been known for two days but a few close contests hang in the balance. This year, the main target of the whining is a state Supreme Court race, which on Friday was still somewhat in doubt.
If only Washington could be sensible like Oregon, the argument goes, and require mailed ballots to be at elections offices by Election Day, as opposed to simply post-marked by Election Day.
Since when did Oregon become such a paragon of electoral virtue? But it wouldn’t really help to make that switch, at least not without more money…Read why inside the blog.
State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, has proposed such a law for the last two years, and vowed to try again in 2011.
“Of course we want ballots to be counted correctly, but who wants a
repeat of 2004, especially with the potential for the eyes of our entire
nation to be focused on Washington, waiting for more than a week for
the ballots to finally be counted?” Becker said in a prepared statement
on Election Day. “If (those other bills) had become law, citizens would
have more certainty about learning who they have entrusted to help our
state and nation return to prosperity. We probably wouldn’t be subject
to all the national speculation I’m hearing about when the state’s
results will be final, and it would bolster public confidence in our
state’s election system.”
All due respect to Becker, but of the top 100 things that need fixing in
Washington, waiting a couple weeks to find out who wins a close
election has to rank about 433rd.
Sure, we count ballots for weeks, but most winners and losers are clear
on election night. The only people inconvenienced by the long counting
period are candidates in close races. After subjecting the rest of us to
months of inane commercials and evasive answers to specific questions,
they don’t rate much sympathy.
Members of the general public aren’t so worried about who’s going to win
an election that they are unable to drag themselves out of bed to go to
work or Costco. Even if the winner of some race isn’t known for a
couple weeks, he or she doesn’t head to the courthouse, the statehouse
or the other Washington until January. Seems like plenty of time for
even the most anxious of us to know who’s going to “help our state and
nation return to prosperity.”
The loudest national speculation about when would Washington’s count be
finished came from cable news talking heads, who have to blather about
something as they seek to fill a 24-hour news hole. Anyone distressed by
that should change the channel.
And the fix being proposed – requiring all ballots to be at the county
elections office by Election Day – wouldn’t change much. It might only
shave a day off the counting process. Here’s why:
Most ballots are mailed and delivered in the same county, so it takes
only a day or two to reach the elections office. Requiring them to be
received by Election Day would mean the true procrastinators who now
mail on Tuesday could wait until Saturday or even Monday. We’d still
have drop-off boxes where ballots could be deposited up through Election
Day (at least, Oregon does).
In other words, some ballots that now arrive by mail on Tuesday would
arrive Monday, and the current mail run from Wednesday would arrive
Tuesday; but the final day’s hand-delivered walk-in votes would come in
at the same time. So what we had by Nov. 3 this year we would have had
instead by Nov. 2. In Spokane County, that was 99 percent of the ballots
received for this election.
Most of the remaining 1 percent of voters could be nudged into earlier
mailing, but a few hundred, the ballots sent to troops overseas, would
still need all the time they can get. Washington state accepts those
ballots until certification, and they can affect a truly close election
like the 2004 gubernatorial race. Anyone want to disenfranchise some of
the brave men and women fighting for our freedoms by rejecting their
ballots just because mail pickup is erratic in Helmand Province?
The main factor in stringing out the count is not when ballots arrive
but when they are processed – signatures checked, envelopes opened,
ballots run through scanners, and remade when voters don’t follow
instructions like using black or blue ink, or not making stray marks on
the ballots. Most counties are also slowed by the limited number of
pricey scanners available.
So we could hire more temporary election workers to process ballots, and
buy more scanners to use a couple times a year. All in favor of local
government spending more money so a couple politicians don’t have to
wait a few extra days to know if they won or lost, raise your hands.
When you put them down, reach around to for your wallet because it’d be
nice to put your money where your mouth is.