By John Stark
With more than 100,000 ballots still to be counted in Washington, the debate over this state’s mail-in ballot and postmark deadline is still raging–or at least sputtering.
On TVW, Secretary of State Sam Reed, who steps down at the end of the year, debates the issue with Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia. Reed, a Republican, wants to change the law to require ballots to be in the hands of election officials by Election Day. Hunt wants to keep the current system, in which ballots postmarked by Election Day are valid.
Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center, called my attention to this item on TVW.
Mercier notes that Oregon also managed a turnout above 80 percent with the deadline that Reed favors.
UPDATE: State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, says she will introduce legislation to move this state to a ballot deadline more or less like Oregon’s. Here is her press release:
OLYMPIA…While ballots that may determine the outcome of legislative elections continue to trickle in, Sen. Randi Becker today announced she will introduce a bill to require ballots to be in hand on Election Day, rather than just in the mail.
“We’re now more than a week past Election Day and in some areas of the state, people still don’t know who their elected officials are going to be. Those races may be determined by ballots that haven’t even been received yet,” said Becker, R-Eatonville. “Washington has the slowest system in the country for receiving votes, and it’s simply one that needs to be improved.
“This isn’t just a matter of convenience. I can tell you personally that there are many things an incoming legislator must do to get up to speed for a legislative session. Delaying an outcome by days or weeks inhibits their ability to effectively represent their district.”
Becker sponsored a similar bill in 2011. That measure was met with concern that large numbers of ballots would arrive late and be disqualified. Becker acknowledged the concern, and said she is confident that voter education could head off the issue and ensure ballots are received in time.
“As the senator from the 2nd Legislative District, which has a large contingent of military voters, I am aware of the concern about disenfranchising people and take it very seriously,” Becker said. “If we take the proper steps to educate voters, I’m confident that people can get their ballots in the mail or in a drop box in time to be received by and counted on Election Day.”
As evidence Becker pointed to the example of Oregon, which has had an Election Day-ballot requirement in place since 1998, and it has worked well there. In fact, in the 2008 presidential election Oregon had a higher turnout rate than Washington.
“No one has the ‘silver bullet’ to perfect our election system, but this is a positive step we can take,” Becker said. “The bill may change as it moves through the legislative process, but we need to get the ball rolling today, while the issue is fresh in people’s minds.”
End press release