Washington needs election changes

By DAVE SCHMIDT

American elections are a cherished privilege and responsibility. What a week of observing American civics in action. But, when an election of national significance requires a recount, the inside workings of the process becomes exposed to the world.

The spotlight on a presidential recount is like observing a hero after a serious accident. Suddenly we are exposed to frailness of our hero and ourselves. For now the spotlight is on Florida, but what would it be like if the cameras were turned to the other corner of our country here in Washington? To be blunt, it would make Florida look like a well-run automobile in need of a tune up. The process of our late primary election in conjunction with a high number of people voting by mail is a train wreck waiting to happen.

A couple of facts to ponder that displays the cracks in the train tracks:

  • Washington has the next to last primary election in the country with only seven weeks before the two elections.

    November election ballots are required to be in the mail three weeks after certification of the primary election. The first big crack is exposed. Three weeks is not sufficient time for a time for a statewide recount and any pursuing legal matters. It’s probable that we would have November’s mail-in ballots suspended, creating massive delays on the final count.

  • Oregon and Washington are the only two states in America having more than 15 percent of the electorate voting by mail.

  • Better than 70 percent of the primary ballots are cast by mail, with approximately 45 percent in November. Ballots cast in polling places stay in a controlled environment, ready for immediate tabulating by the courthouse scanner. Mail ballots are returned in as many different conditions as imaginable, requiring hand inspections before they can be counted. Computers can’t read coffee stains versus ink marks or circled names instead of punched holes. Bent ballots are notorious for jamming counting machines.

  • Washington is the only state allowing volumes of ballots to be mailed on the election day. This year, more than half a million ballots statewide will arrive at their respective courthouses after those cast at the polls.

  • A statewide recount could take three to four weeks to finalize. It could take up to 10 days after the election before a recount would be required. Hand recounts are laborious, requiring individual inspection. The more times a ballot is handled, the greater the probability of mistakes. Tight election results may require multiple counts to confirm the final outcome.

    Can you imagine Washington being the spotlight under such conditions? How many lawsuits of ballot irregularity do you think would be filed while the world waits in anxiety for theee to four weeks? Our system worked fine when less than 5 percent of the results were cast by mail. But, voters want timely results so they can get on their lives.

    Avoiding an embarrassing spotlight carrying on for weeks requires changes in law. We need to bring our state in line with the rest of the country by requiring ballots to be in the courthouses on election day. But, we cannot have timely results of the general election without moving the primary election date. County auditors simply need more time between the two elections due to the high volume of absentee ballots.

    Over the last four years, I have introduced bills to change the primary election date and timelines for quicker election results. But, traditions are hard to change and legislators are reluctant in slaying sacred cows. Hopefully this year’s spotlight on Florida will be a wakeup call to fix the cracks in the rail lines. Accidents are messy and expensive. I’d rather spend my time slaying the sacred cow than cleaning up an embarrassing mess with the whole world watching.

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