Move date of state's primary election for military voters

Washington state is not now in compliance with federal law.

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It's difficult for some voters to focus on Washington state's primary election, which takes place in late summer about the time kids are getting ready to go back to school. Folks are more interested in squeezing a little more relaxation -- another trip to the river or the mountains -- before settling into the school/work routine.

Given that, it's unlikely Secretary of State Sam Reed's proposal to the Legislature to hold the primary two weeks earlier on the first Tuesday in August is going to be greeted with enthusiasm. After all, early August is the apex of the vacation season.

Yet, Reed's plan is prudent -- and necessary. The date of the primary must be changed to accommodate those state residents casting ballots from overseas, particularly those who are in the military.

Federal law requires military ballots be mailed 45 days before an election, but that's been a problem in Washington state because there wasn't enough time between the primary and the November general election. Washington state was granted a waiver last year because the state agreed to accept ballots for up to three weeks after the election.

But, in granting the waiver, federal officials told Reed's staff not to expect a waiver every year, said David Ammons, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

"Our primary was skating on the edge of doable," Ammons said "... We looked at how we could provide more upfront time and came to the inescapable conclusion that we need to move forward two weeks. We don't like asking for change and know this is an unpopular proposal."

An early August election is sure to cause grumbling from those who actually realize the date has been changed. Sadly, a summer election will go unnoticed by far too many people.

Still, the change needs to be made to comply with federal law and to give local election officials sufficient time to do their jobs. Election officials -- and candidates -- will simply have to work harder at reaching out to voters.

And while lawmakers are making changes to election law, we would also urge them to act on another of Reed's proposals -- mandate ballots be returned by election day.

The current law calls for ballots to be postmarked by election day, which means ballots dribble in for weeks. Candidates and their supporters deserve to know if they've won or lost so they can move on.

This move isn't likely to reduce voter participation.

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 the deadline or drop them in 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 almost always available on election night.

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