Elections should end on Election Day

The system works in Oregon, but Washington state allows the ballots to dribble for weeks.

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Voting in Walla Walla County started more than a week ago when the County Auditor’s Office mailed ballots to registered voters.

There is now less than a week until Election Day, the time when ballots must be postmarked.

And then those ballots will come dribbling in for weeks. If recounts are needed, the drama can be extended about a month.

If there is a close contest — as is expected in the race for governor between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee — the drip, drip, drip of ballots will be torture.

And not just for the candidates. The public, too, will be irked as one candidate inches ahead of another only to lose the lead the next day. Think back to the painful 2004 gubernatorial marathon election.

We see the possibility of a drawn-out election as the only negative of vote-by-mail, which is now done throughout the state. The system, after all, costs taxpayers less and tends to result in more folks voting.

Perhaps those elected this fall to the Legislature and other state offices, some of whom will have been left in election limbo for weeks, will embrace a simple solution to settle elections more quickly.

Outgoing Secretary of State Sam Reed has suggested requiring all ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

This change would allow elections to be wrapped up faster.

Our neighbors to the south, Oregon, implemented this simple fix. It has worked extremely well.

The only change for voters is a little thinking ahead. 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 can generally be established within a few hours of polls closing. Close races can be settled in a matter of a few days.

The Oregon approach seems to increase 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 might have been that some of Washington’s ballots are not counted even though they were mailed on Election Day.

Reed and other election experts have concluded the problem is some U.S. Postal Service offices — particularly those in 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.

That’s something to consider as you vote until the state gets around to implementing this necessary and simple fix.

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