Nov. 4 Daily News editorial
Retiring Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed leaves behind the large legacy that might be expected of someone who held his elected post as the state’s top elections official for 12 years. The “top-two” August primary, having apparently survived all legal challenges, is a Reed project.
One item on Reed’s “to do” list that hasn’t managed to get done, however, ought to be enacted following his departure.
It’s fairly simple. Reed would like to see Washington follow the lead of many other vote-by-mail states and require that ballots be received, rather than be postmarked, by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Oregon made this adjustment several years ago and has thus spared itself Washington’s singular election agony — an inability to determine the winner in a close contest on the night of the election and, perhaps, for many days afterward while legally cast but late-arriving ballots are collected and tallied.
We are and remain in favor of voting by mail. It’s a system that costs taxpayers less and tends to result in more votes being cast than does requiring voting in person.
Should Reed’s plan be adopted, voters with access to designated drop boxes for ballots could still vote on the last day, almost up to the last minute. An additional time constraint would be placed on absentee voters and voters sending their ballots through the regular mail. They’d need to vote early enough to make certain their ballots would be received and counted.
Some ballots might be delayed in the mail and not arrive in time — which Reed notes is happening under the current system. He uses the example of smaller and rural post offices that collect and postmark mail at the usual times on Election Day, often leaving last-minute voters with the next day’s postmark and a vote that can’t be counted.
Taking the postmark out of the process and making receipt by 8 p.m. a hard and fast deadline would greatly streamline the electoral machinery and would allow for more timely announcement and certification of results.
Extremely close votes — Washington’s cliff-hanger 2004 gubernatorial election comes to mind — would remain subject to delays involving automatic and discretionary recounts. The time frame for settling them, however, might be reduced by a full week or more.
It’s now a very rare vote in Oregon when an uncertified but final count of the votes isn’t available on Election Night. We think that’s to be desired and would recommend Washington move toward a similar election procedure.