With the epic contest of 2004 between Dino Rossi and Chris Gregoire, it’s understandable that some political observers would be sensitive to any changes that could affect how votes are counted in Washington state. It was the closest gubernatorial race in history, and the early “winner” ended up losing after an extended recount and subsequent court battles.
Well, according to the polls, Rossi could be locked into another nail-biter – this time against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray – and already suspicions are mounting that the state’s electoral machinery will be tipped against him. So, it’s important to nip that myth in the bud.
It seems some cable news pundits floated the notion that several states, including Washington, were not going to comply with a new federal law that says ballots must be mailed to military members 45 days before the general election. Washington was one of nine states that sought a waiver and was granted one.
State Republican Party officials responded with sharp criticism aimed at Secretary of State Sam Reed, claiming that the waiver would serve to disenfranchise overseas military voters and hurt the party’s candidates since military voters are generally more conservative. If they had merely contacted Reed, a fellow Republican, their fears would have been alleviated.
The confusion stems from the fact that Washington state, unlike most others, keeps counting ballots after Election Day. As the secretary of state’s website states: “Election officials in Washington State continue to count valid absentee ballots returned after an election as long as they are either postmarked, or signed and dated, no later than election day. Absentee ballots may be returned up to 15 days after a primary election or special election, and 21 days after a general election.”
With the waiver, the deadline for mailing military ballots will be 30 days before Election Day, which is Nov. 2. Overseas military voters could mark and sign their ballots on Election Day and still have 21 days to get them to election officials. That is ample time, especially since the state has e-mail and fax options for absentee voters.
This year’s primary ended on Aug. 18, but the votes weren’t certified until Tuesday. This means that without the waiver, election officials would have had from Sept. 7 to Sept. 18, or nine business days, to prepare and mail ballots to tens of thousands of military voters.
Some counties would have made it, but some may not have had enough time. So, Reed sought the waiver.
What critics are missing is that in other states ballots must be received by Election Day in order to be counted. So military voters from Washington state are getting as much time – and in some cases more time – to return their ballots. This is one reason the waiver was granted. Another factor is the state’s solid record in counting military votes. In 2008, 99 percent of military ballots were tabulated, according to state officials.
We understand the sensitivity surrounding a change in election rules, given the close call in 2004 and the heightened partisanship of today’s politics. But the military waiver is a nonissue in this state.
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