by David Ammons | November 9th, 2009
Gov. Chris Gregoire, backed by House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, is urging lawmakers to assist counties in producing a faster count of election returns. That could mean requiring that ballots be in hand by the local elections office by Election Day in order to be counted.
Secretary of State Sam Reed has made that suggestion for the past two years, but the legislation has generated little interest in Olympia. On Monday, as the state’s largest city, Seattle, still awaits a final count for their new mayor, and over 140,000 ballots haven’t been counted statewide, a week after the election, Gregoire told a Capitol press conference she wants to work on ways to speed up the long drawn-out tally process in Washington state. That could include an Election Day deadline to return ballots, as Oregon currently requires.
Currently, ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day, from anywhere on the planet. It can take days to reach the voter’s home county. Typically, only half of the expected ballots are counted by Election Night, leading to calls for a speed up.
County Auditors are divided on the change. Critics note that after the ultra-close governor’s race in 2004, the state has stressed accuracy over speed. Careful processing, ballot reconciliation and tabulation are time-consuming, they say. Others worry about the implementation, disenfranchising voters, and giving voters the faulty assumption that 100 percent of the ballots could ever be counted by close of business Election Night.
Proponents of the Election Day deadline for the county receiving the ballot say the requirement works fine in Oregon, and that with good public education, voters would adjust. They note that even today’s Election Day postmark requirement isn’t met by a number of voters, and that their ballots can’t be processed. Voters, the parties, campaigns and the media are operating in a 24-7 news environment and have come to expect fast result, they say. One analyst on Monday wrote a scenario imagining it’s 2012 and the whole presidency hinges on a tight vote in Washington state … and the count is still under way.