Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Vote-by-mail is significantly less expensive than traditional polling places and voter turnout is higher. Vote-by-mail is a winner.
Yet, the switch from neighborhood polling places to all vote-by-mail was — and, frankly, still is — traumatic for some voters.
And we understand why. A certain satisfaction comes in gathering with others and casting your ballot on the same day. It makes the election feel like an event.
In order to sell vote-by-mail to the public, the state tried to keep other aspects of the voting procedures the same.
This included allowing ballots postmarked on Election Day to be counted.
But now that all voters are voting by mail, allowing Election Day postmarks to qualify ballots is causing some problems.
One is inconvenience. The votes drip in for weeks after Election Day making it difficult to declare a winner in close contests. And when it occurs in the primary election, the candidates have to wait for two weeks or more before it is clear who will be in the November final.
The other reason is far more serious. Votes are not being counted.
In some parts of the state, particularly rural areas, post offices are not open after hours and the ballots are not being postmarked until the next day. As a result, those ballots are invalid.
Unfortunately, this problem is only going to grow worse as the U.S. Postal Service is forced to cut costs and reduce services. Closures are planned for five mail-processing centers in Washington state. This would leave just two processing centers, Seattle and Spokane.
This will force voters outside of the two urban areas to drop their ballots in the mail at least a day earlier if they want them counted. It will also slow the sorting of mail and cause the drip of ballots to be even slower.
It’s time to make some changes to Washington’s vote-by-mail system. The Evergreen State should adopt the system used in Oregon, a state with a longer history of all vote-by-mail.
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.
Voter turnout is slightly better than Washington’s. The Washington voter turnout rate in 2008 was 84.6 percent. Oregon’s voter turnout that year was 85.7 percent. Perhaps the difference is those ballots in Washington postmarked the day after Election Day.
Changes to the postal system make it necessary for Washington to change its vote-by-mail procedures.