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Enough squeezing of voters on ballot deadlines

5:31 pm February 13th, 2013

Pat Jenkins
Dispatch editor

If you’re like me and you’re a little tired of being told when you must vote, potential new state legislation could further chafe your sense of civic duty.
The Legislature is giving some thought – how much or how seriously isn’t clear – to yet another change in when voters must cast their ballots. And if this change is made, it could disenfranchise voters for the unpardonable sin, as some see it, of taking the fully allotted time that state law now allows them to vote.
Legislation whose chief sponsor is state Sen. Pam Roach would, if it’s passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, require ballots in our all-mail system of voting to be in the offices of county election departments no later than 8 p.m. on election day. The way it works now, ballots must only be postmarked by election day in order to be counted. That means some ballots can’t be counted for a day or more after the voting period is over, meaning the final tally depends on how fast the mail is delivered and how fast the ballots are counted.
That’s not good enough for people like Roach, who want to tinker with the system on the premise the counting of ballots needs to be faster so that election winners and losers can be known sooner. What Roach is also saying, though not in so many words, is that the results of an election are more important than how many people vote – a backward approach to democratic elections if I ever heard of one.
In theory, Washington’s switch to voting by mail allowed people to make up their minds on candidates and issues and cast their ballots in the comfort of their homes over a period of several weeks leading up to the actual election day. In reality, some people put their decisions off and have to mail their ballots or deposit them in official drop boxes on election day. Oh, well. If people are procrastinators and turn their ballots in at the last minute, so be it. At least they’re voting.
Legislators and election officials who advocated for mail-in ballots should have thought of the potential downside to that system before making the switch from in-person voting. Innocent procrastination isn’t enough of a reason to disenfranchise a voter. Given the ridiculously low voter turnout that most elections garner, every single vote is a precious commodity.
County election departments employ extra people and work longer hours getting ballots counted. That’s a bad thing only if the counting process is flawed and inefficient. I’m not hearing that in the reasoning for Roach’s proposal. I’m just hearing that we have to know the results of elections sooner.
But relatively few races are so close that the final outcomes, while not official, aren’t obvious from results that are tabulated on election night or the next day. The ones that are that tight and must wait on the final ballots to dribble in by mail are a small price for engaging as many voters as possible, however slowly.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 360-832-4697, editor@dispatchnews.com

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