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Fri., Oct. 21, 2011, 11:47 a.m.

WA gets high marks for getting ballots to troops

OLYMPIA -- Those with long memories might recall a point last fall when the state received a waiver of the federal deadline for getting ballots to the troops overseas, and FOX News commentators briefly came unglued because they thought the state was trying to take the most precious right of democracy away from the brave men and women fighting and dying to defend those rights.

Or something like that.

No matter how hard then-assistant state elections director Katie Blinn tried to explain the state's system, FOX anchor Megyn Kelly couldn't seem to wrap her head around the idea that because the Washington continues to count ballots that come in the mail for nearly two weeks after "election day", the state actually has a longer window than most for the troops -- and anyone else overseas -- to get their ballot back to be counted. The state GOP's executive and central committees passed a resolution calling for Secretary of State Sam Reed to withdraw its request for a waiver, without ever bothering to call Reed, who is a Republican.

You can read about that whole flap from the archives, here or watch the FOX report here.

So why bring this up? Because a new study on the record for states in getting ballots out and back to deployed troops and other overseas voters gives Washington high marks for the 2010 election. . . .

Read about it, inside the blog.

The state sent out nearly 53,000 ballots overseas, 32,597 of them to military personnel. About 21,000 of them came back, with 13,065 coming from military voters.

The state counted 99 percent of the ballots came back. Of the 274 ballots that were rejected, only 17 weren't counted because they arrived to late to be counted. The main reason for rejecting a military or overseas ballot is the same as for regular ballots: the signature didn't match the one on file.

It is true that the turn in rate for military and other overseas voters was much lower than for the general population -- 40 percent compared to about 71 percent for voters at home. It may be that by the time some ballots caught up to troops in forward bases it was so late they didn't have time to mark the ballots and mail them back. It's also possible they had other, more pressing, things going on. Nationally, about 32 percent of the ballots sent to deployed troops came back.

The number of ballots Washington sent to deployed troops and other overseas voters was fifth in the nation, behind more populous states like California, Texas, Florida and New York. The percentage of returned ballots that were counted was fourth. In both cases, that's far ahead of many states that didn't get a waiver of the federal law requiring ballots be sent out a minimum of 45 days before the election.

Letting the troops vote is a great rallying cry, particularly if one doesn't let the facts get in the way of the emotion.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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