Senator wants faster ballot tally

THURSDAY, NOV. 18, 2004

OLYMPIA – Tired of state elections that linger in limbo, a Republican state senator wants to require voters to get their mail-in ballots to election offices by Election Day.

“People want a result right away, and they deserve one,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

What she’s proposing is how things are done in most states. Voters in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and 36 other states must get their ballots to the election office by the end of Election Day.

In Washington, the postmark is all that matters. If it’s stamped by Election Day, the ballot counts.

And that just takes too long, Roach said. Changing the law “would avoid the long delays as ballots trickle in to be counted. As we once did, we should know the results of our election on Election Night.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed also would like to see ballots in by Election Day, so long as the state’s unusually late September primary is changed to an earlier date.

“I think it would be appropriate,” he said.

The Senate’s Democratic majority leader, however, said that tightening the timeline would inevitably leave some ballots uncounted if they happen to arrive late in the mail.

“My personal reaction is that whatever maximizes participation is what I like,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “More participation, more democracy.”

Paul Berendt, the state Democratic Party chairman, said he’d fight any effort to change the current law. States that require ballots to be at the courthouse by Election Day, he said, consistently have 2 percent to 3 percent of their voters whose votes don’t count because they arrive too late.

“Under this system, at least everyone’s vote counts,” he said.

More important, Berendt said, the reason Washington’s governor’s race has dragged on for more than two weeks after the Nov. 2 vote has little to do with the speed of the mail.

“Very few ballots come more than a couple of days after the election,” he said. “There’s this thought that thousands of ballots arrive in the mail the next week, and that’s not true.”

The reason for the long wait, he said, is that county election departments don’t have the staff and equipment to count nearly 3 million ballots faster.

“Senator Roach’s bill would not change the situation we’re in today at all,” Berendt said. “And there would have been tens of thousands of voters whose votes wouldn’t have counted.”


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