OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire cited Seattle’s drawn-out mayoral race Monday as the most recent example of why the state needs an earlier deadline for mail-in ballots.
Nearly a week after Tuesday’s election, elections officials in King County finished counting all but 33,000 of the more than 1 million ballots received.
With Monday’s updated total, environmentalist Mike McGinn had widened his lead over cell phone executive Joe Mallahan to 4,939 votes in the race for Seattle mayor. Mallahan conceded Monday after the latest tally was released.
Earlier in the day, Gregoire said that the days, and potentially weeks, of not knowing the outcome of an election is hard not only on the candidates, but on the people who voted for them.
“Those candidates deserve to know. The people deserve to know,” Gregoire said about the counting process.
Gregoire wants to work with Secretary of State Sam Reed to make changes that ensure speedier results.
Counties now report results for most of the ballots they have in hand by the end of election night. However, because many voters drop ballots in the mail or into special drop boxes on Election Day, the forms don’t reach election officials for several more days.
The system usually leaves about half of the vote outstanding at the end of the night.
More than 56,000 ballots remained to be counted in the state, though two statewide ballot measures and other races had wide enough margins to be decided last week.
All but one of the state’s 39 counties vote entirely by mail. Pierce County maintains traditional poll sites, but most of its voters mail in ballots anyway.
For years, Reed’s office has unsuccessfully pushed for an earlier ballot deadline, especially after the extended governor’s race in 2004 that ultimately resulted in Gregoire’s victory.
Republican Dino Rossi took an early lead, and 15 days after Election Day, it appeared he had beaten Gregoire by 261 votes. A machine recount narrowed the lead to just 42 votes.
A second recount put Gregoire ahead by 129 votes out of 2.8 million cast.
Washington is one of more than two dozen states that allow voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse such as illness, disability or travel.
Numerous states allow early voting at poll sites, along with the mailing of absentee ballots.
But most require ballots to be in the hands of election officials by the time polls close on Election Day.
Election officials said about 99 percent of Washington voters cast ballots by mail in last week’s elections.
Many county elections officials have opposed changes to the deadline because of concerns over disenfranchising voters.
“To me, that’s a really big deal,” said Kittitas County Auditor Jerry Pettit. “I would not want to potentially cause an issue that would prevent ballots from being counted.”
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said she supports requiring all ballots to be in by Election Day, but she pointed out that fellow lawmakers think it might discourage people from voting.
Bills introduced earlier this year on the issue received public hearings in both the Senate and House but didn’t gain any traction beyond that.