Saturday, May 22, 2010
The race for Umatilla County commissioner between incumbent Larry Givens and challenger Glen Diehl was a squeaker. Givens won the contest by just 146 votes out of more than 11,000 cost.
"It's a win, we'll take it," Givens said just after the votes were counted.
But if Umatilla County was in Washington rather than Oregon, Givens would be waiting days, maybe weeks, to find out if he had won re-election. And so, too, would the voters.
That's because Oregon has election laws crafted specifically to make its all vote-by-mail system work more efficiently as well as effectively.
Most of Washington state, outside of Pierce County, is vote-by-mail.
We concede the transition to vote-by-mail elections has been emotionally difficult. A lot of people found comfort in the traditional polling place.
When Oregon adopted the vote-by-mail system it was clear the approach was the future. Costs went down and voter turnout went up.
In 2006 Walla Walla County went with the vote-by-mail trend. That year 30 of the state's 39 counties went in that direction.
But Washington's system, while better, is still not as well-oiled as Oregon's.
The most obvious problem is the way elections are allowed to drag on.
Washington law allows all votes postmarked on Election Day to be counted. It can take weeks for the ballots to trickle in.
But in Oregon 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.
In Washington it is estimated just half of the vote statewide has been counted by the end of election night.
Candidates deserve to know if they've won or lost. Those who win in a primary need time to prepare for the general election.
Washington should be following Oregon's lead on this matter.
Requiring ballots be turned in by Election Day is not a hardship for voters. There is plenty of time before Election Day to mail ballots. Boxes are placed at various locations throughout communities so ballots can be dropped off. Those who want to vote have ample opportunity.
The voter turnout rate in the two states is evidence Oregon's system is at least as voter-friendly as Washington's. While the Washington state voter turnout rate in 2008 was 84.6 percent, Oregon's voter turnout that year was 85.7 percent. Oregonians had complete results that night, Washingtonians were waiting for weeks.
Oregon does vote-by-mail the right way.