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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Waiting for election results doesn’t harm anyone

A familiar post-election refrain, as predictable as swallows returning to Capistrano or Cougar fans pinning their Apple Cup hopes on bad weather in Pullman, sounded last week.

The amount of time Washington takes to count its ballots and settle elections predictably irked several politicians. State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said she’d introduce legislation to require all ballots be in elections’ officials hands by Election Day.

“We’re now more than a week past Election Day and in some areas of the state, people still don’t know who their elected officials are going to be,” Becker complained in a news release. “Washington has the slowest system in the country for receiving votes, and it’s simply one that needs to be improved.”

(Editor’s note: Secretary of State-elect Kim Wyman supports speeding up the ballot counting process without requiring all ballots be in officials’ hands by Election Day. An earlier version of this story misstated her position due to a reporter’s error.)

Incoming legislators have lots to do to get ready for the upcoming session, Becker said. “Delaying an outcome by days or weeks inhibits their ability to effectively represent their district.”

They should save their energy – and the citizens’ time. Other than a handful of office-seekers who were either so well-matched or ran such mediocre campaigns that they weren’t way ahead or way behind on election night, no one is seriously inconvenienced by the system Washington has now.

It’s true that allowing voters to mail their ballots up through Election Day means a big chunk of ballots doesn’t arrive until Wednesday or Thursday of that week. The actual number varies from county to county and election to election.

This general election in Spokane County, 29,367 ballots, or about 13 percent of what’s come so far, arrived after Nov. 6. But the vast majority arrived on Nov. 7, so at best we’d just be shifting the count forward by 24 hours. Big deal.

Even with only about half of the expected ballot turn-in counted on election night, the winners and losers in most races were clear at 8:45 p.m. Among the races that weren’t immediately decided, it wasn’t a case of candidates keeling over from the suspense but a chance for supporters to keep hope alive.

We didn’t know if same-sex marriage would pass until Wednesday, and charter schools didn’t make it over the top until Saturday. So what? The laws don’t take effect until December. No loving couple had to postpone their nuptials, and no kid had to wait to meet his or her new teacher.

In the gubernatorial campaign, almost everyone with a calculator could look at the election night totals and be confident that Jay Inslee would stay ahead of Rob McKenna. Everyone, that is, except McKenna’s staff, who insisted for two days they had a secret analysis by unnamed number crunchers – or perhaps voodoo priestesses throwing chicken bones – that proved he’d pull ahead in the coming days or weeks.

By Friday, the crunching apparently ground to a halt and McKenna conceded. But what was the harm to the state of not knowing for an extra 72 hours in November who would move into the governor’s office in January? Planes didn’t fall out of the sky, Gonzaga basketball players weren’t so preoccupied that they lost to some no-name foe and baristas didn’t refuse to put extra shots in lattes until we knew if it was Rob or Jay.

A legislative race is still hanging fire down in the Vancouver area, with Republican Don Benton and Democrat Tim Probst, where Benton was ahead by 96 votes as of Friday night. Neither will need much time to get ready for the session – Benton’s the incumbent and Probst was in the House.

That race might not be settled until next week, but if you think about it, the votes that will decide it are coming in the mail from far away. Possibly as far away as Afghanistan, from troops stationed over there, who might have been a bit busy and didn’t get their ballots in the mail until Nov. 6. Is some elected official really going to take the position that we should not count ballots from our brave men and women overseas who are fighting to protect our freedoms, among which is the freedom to vote for the candidate of our choice?

I think not.

One other thing these would-be reformers should consider: The people who have to vote to make this change all got elected under the system we have now. Most are probably pretty comfortable with it. Especially the ones that squeaked by in the later counts.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at spincontrol.
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