OLYMPIA -- A proposal to move the state's August primary up by two weeks, making it easier to ensure military and overseas voters get their general election ballots delivered and returned, sailed through the Senate this morning as both chambers continue churning through bills.
SB 5171 now goes to the House, which has a companion bill to do the same thing.
The problem arises with federal law that requires states to have at least 45 days between the time absentee ballots are mailed to military voters and the election. Washington state moved its primaries back from mid-September to mid-August several years ago to accommodate military and other overseas voters, but the time it takes to count ballots, settle close elections and possibly hold recounts means many counties don't have the results of the primary available to print up the general ballots 45 days ahead of the November election.
Last year Washington got a waiver of the law because the state doesn't stop counting ballots on election day like most states. It continues to count properly marked ballots that come in for more than two weeks, so military voters actually had more than 45 days to cast a ballot. (This fact did not keep legislators from demagoguing about protecting the voting rights of the brave men and women fighting in forward operating bases in Afghanistan so the rest of us had the right to vote, but such statements are pretty much a given on this topic.)
With the change in dates, the state won't need to ask for a waiver. It also allows military voters overseas to vote by fax or e-mail.