By John Stark
Washington state residents had to wait three whole days after the Nov. 6 general election to find out for sure who their next governor will be, and a lot of people seem to find that kind of delay unacceptable.
I don’t know about you, but I slept quite well during this long statewide nightmare. My appetite was also not affected.
But it is a fact that this state’s election procedure is untypical. Around the nation, residents of many states still expect to take time off from work to wait in line at fire stations and schoolhouses to cast ballots that can be quickly tabulated on election night.
In other states with mail-in ballots, voters are required to mail early, because ballots that don’t arrive in the mail by election day are tossed. Procrastinators are disenfranchised.
In Washington state, if you can get an election day postmark on your envelope, you’re good. Election officials check the mail bag on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and beyond in search of ballots that must be counted. When a race is close–as in this year’s contest between Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna in the race for governor–the state’s residents live in a fog of uncertainty for days. Even worse, political reporters have to keep coming up with new versions of their “too close to call” story for each day’s edition.
Jason Mercier, Director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center, provides a roundup of election laws in other states, as well as a link to a roundup of newspaper editorials demanding reform.
“According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day:
“In three states, absentee ballots must be returned prior to Election Day.
“In 36 states, absentee ballots must be returned by Election Day.
“In 11 states and the District of Columbia, additional time for the arrival of absentee ballots is provided after Election Day, as long as the absentee ballot is postmarked by Election Day.
Thanks for the info, Mr. Mercier.
What do you think? Washington state policies seem to be designed to maximize voter turnout. Is that more or less important that instant election night gratification?
I do think that in the Presidential race, a quick determination has value. Uncertainty about which party will control our nation’s highest office can have harmful effect on financial markets, foreign policy matters, and so forth.
If Washington ever evolves into a swing state in presidential politics, our voting system has the potential to drive the entire nation insane.
But I remain to be convinced that a few days of uncertainty about a governor’s race is hurting much of anything. Maybe I’m missing something.
As of this morning, the election turnout in Whatcom County is a robust 74 percent, and election officials estimate that thousands more remain to be counted.