Elections should be resolved much faster

Nobody benefits by allowing contentious races such as the one for Port commissioner to linger.

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The race for Walla Walla Port commissioner between incumbent Michael Fredrickson and challenger Barlow Corkrum has been extremely contentious.

Many supporters of both candidates, as well as the general public, were probably ecstatic to see Election Day come and the votes counted.

But when the first wave of ballots were counted just after 8 p.m. on Election Day the race was too close to call. Fredrickson led by 159 votes with thousands of ballots still out. The second wave of ballots was counted on Thursday, cutting Fredrickson's lead to 49.

The ballots will continue to trickle in. Another count is set for Wednesday. The winner might not be known until Nov. 29, which is the date set by the state to certify the election.

That's ridiculous.

But it's not the fault of County Auditor Karen Martin or local election officials. They are merely following the law written to accommodate counting all ballots postmarked by Election Day.

It's time to change the law. Candidates, their supporters and the general public should not have to wait nearly a month to find out who won in close races.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's chief elections officer, has long understood this was a problem and has been lobbying the Legislature to approve a simple fix.

The law should be changed so that all ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

This change would allow elections to be wrapped up faster.

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

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.

A clear winner in Oregon elections is generally established within a few hours of polls closing. Close races can be settled in a matter of a few days.

And the Oregon method actually results in greater voter participation.

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

The reason for Oregon's higher voter turnout is some of Washington's ballots are not counted even though they were mailed on Election Day. Reed and others have concluded the problem is some U.S. Postal Service offices -- particularly those in small towns or rural areas -- are not staffed in the evening or late at night. As a result, Reed said, the ballots are postmarked a day later and are not counted.

It's time lawmakers improve the vote-by-mail process by setting a firm deadline for ballots to be received.

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