Move primary for the troops

Chances appear good that starting next year, election season will last a little longer in Washington.

That’s a good thing, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the primary reason for legislation that passed the state Senate last week in a 47-1 vote: ensuring those serving in the military overseas have ample time to cast their vote and have it count.

The federal government told state election officials it was going to begin enforcing a requirement that ballots be mailed to military personnel at least 45 days before a primary or general election. Getting to a post office isn’t always easy for soldiers in combat zones.

Even though Washington moved its primary date from mid-September to mid-August a few years ago, that still left too little room for ballot-printing errors or other problems to ensure meeting that 45-day deadline. Senate Bill 5171 (prime sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens), and a companion bill in the House solve that by moving the primary date to the first Tuesday in August.

In turn, they would also move the deadline for candidates to file for office from early June to mid-May, a provision most legislators likely hate (it gives them less time to raise money and campaign, potentially decreasing the advantage of incumbency), but are essentially forced to go along with to ensure overseas voters are treated fairly.

Incumbents needn’t worry too much — we suspect the electoral playing field will remain tilted firmly in their favor.

Making voting easier for our armed forces abroad is also why the legislation creates more options for them to return their ballots electronically. They’d be able to fax their ballot, or e-mail an image of it, to their county auditor as long as they sign a waiver of secrecy, since the ballot wouldn’t be sent in an envelope. They wouldn’t be required to also mail in the paper ballot so it’s received before the election is certified, as they do now. It’s a sensible change that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the election process one bit.

Moving the primary to early August means voters will receive the ballots in mid-July, giving them more time to become familiar with issues and candidates before the November election. Clearly a positive move.

But first and foremost, this is legislation aimed at ensuring that those who sacrifice so much for freedom are able to exercise theirs. The House should follow the Senate’s lead and give it overwhelming approval.

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