Washington's vote-by-mail elections need a small tweak

A deadline needs to be set for ballots to be received so results can be tabulated faster.


When Walla Walla County, like most of Washington state, went to all-mail elections we begrudgingly endorsed the idea. Vote-by-mail is cheaper and promotes higher voter turnout but there is -- make that was -- something special about going to a polling place to cast your ballot on Election Day. We, like many citizens, miss that.

Nevertheless, the switch to vote-by-mail has been a good move.

Yet, this new system of voting has at least one glitch that needs fixing. It takes far too long to count ballots. In very close races it can be several days, even a few weeks, before it is clear who has won the election.

It is estimated that only about half of the vote statewide has been counted by the end of election night.

It's not right. Candidates and their supporters deserve to know if they've won or lost so they can move on.

The problem is that Washington law allows all votes postmarked on Election Day to be counted. Officials allow time for the ballots to trickle in.

But in Oregon, a state that went vote-by-mail before Washington, the ballots have to be received by Election Day. Voters either have to mail their ballots several days before Election Day or drop them in drop boxes throughout communities.

The Washington state voter turnout rate in 2008 was 84.6 percent. Oregon's voter turnout that year was 85.7 percent.

Perhaps the Oregon deadline creates a sense of urgency that results in more ballots being turned in. Clearly the system works.

And the results are usually available on election night.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, has advocated an earlier ballot deadline for years but has not been able to convince the Legislature to make the changes.

This week Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, said she wants to work with Reed to enact changes that will speed up the counting process.

Now is the time to make this important and necessary change to the election process. The Legislature needs to take action to make vote-by-mail even better.

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