3.9 million registered voters, Secretary of State says

SEATTLE — The election may be next Tuesday, but it’s likely that Washingtonians won’t know who will be their next governor immediately.

This is a familiar tune to anyone who watches Washington’s mostly vote-by-mail system, which in close races does not give definitive results on election night because a large chunk of ballots don’t make it to the counters.

“We continue to think that it’s a good idea to have ballots in by election day, rather than just a postmark requirement,” said Secretary of State’s office spokesman Dave Ammons on Friday. “We’ll probably have counted 60 percent of the vote by election night.”

That leaves another 40 percent of ballots uncounted, either en route by mail or left at the drop boxes counties have set up.

Under state law, ballots have to be postmarked by Election Day. Voters also have the option of dropping off ballots at local drop boxes. It’s up to the Legislature to set the deadlines for voters.

The governor, attorney general and a handful of legislative races are close this year. And while some statewide ballot initiatives have polls showing a leading side, those remain close as well.

Ammons points to Oregon. It’s another state that has vote-by-mail but requires ballots to be mailed before election day. Voter participation there is higher than in Washington’s, he added.

“I think voters, campaigns and everyone would like to have a more complete picture” election night, he said.

Ammons said that about 38 percent of the state’s ballots already have been returned.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s office reported that 3.9 million people registered to vote in Washington this year, marking a record.

In 2008, that number was 3.63 million. Ammons said the 3.9 million registered voters is an increase of 180,000 since the August primary.

Earlier this week, State Secretary Sam Reed predicted that the state will see an 81 percent voter turnout by the time elections are over. Washington’s record is 85 percent. The historic average is 79 percent.

Reed said the highly competitive races for president and governor, as well as some of the most compelling ballot measures in the country, such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization, will prompt people to vote.

In August, Reed predicted a 46 percent turnout for the primary. The final tally was 38.5 percent.

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