Washington's ballots need to be counted much faster

Candidates and their supporters, as well as the public, deserve to know who won in a timely manner.

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About 98 percent of Washington state voters cast ballots by mail. It's been a boon to elections as voter turnout has increased.

This year - as of last week - turnout was 2.3 million or 64.1 percent of the state's registered voters. As of last week? Wasn't the election nearly two weeks ago?

Yep, but with vote-by-mail the ballots dribble in over several weeks.

And that's why the race for a seat on the state Supreme Court between incumbent Richard Sanders and challenger Charlie Wiggins wasn't settled as of last week. The race for U.S. Senate between Sen. Patty Murray and Dino Rossi wasn't called until a couple of days after Election Day.

It takes far too long to count ballots. This is the one glitch in the vote-by-mail system that needs fixing.

It is estimated that only about half of the vote statewide had 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.

During the presidential-year election of 2008 the voter turnout rate in Washington state was 84.6 percent. Oregon's voter turnout that year was 85.7 percent.

Clearly having the deadline does not hamper voting. And the results in Oregon are usually available on election night.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, has advocated an earlier ballot deadline in the past but he hasn't been able to convince the Legislature to make the changes. Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, has also called for speeding up the counting process.

Given the deep economic troubles the state now faces, it's not likely the Legislature will devote much - if any - time to this problem.

Unfortunately, it's probably going to take another drawn out, contentious, high-profile election such as the first Gregoire-Rossi election, to spur action. The Supreme Court race, while important, isn't something the average Washingtonian is going to lose sleep over.

But lawmakers should be proactive and take action to avoid an ugly election disaster.

Washington state's election simply should not be allowed to drag on for weeks. Lawmakers need to fix the problem. Requiring ballots to be in on election day is an easy and effective solution.

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