This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Are voters in Oregon smarter than those here in Washington?
Apparently. Somehow they’ve been able to get their ballots in by 8 p.m. on Election Day for the last 12 years.
But in this state, which only requires that ballots be postmarked by Election Day, opponents argue that so many people wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get their ballots in on time that they’d essentially be disenfranchised.
That argument doesn’t hold water, according to numbers from the Washington Policy Center. In the last election, voter turnout in Oregon was 82.8 percent. In Washington, turnout was lower – 81.25 percent – even with the extra time voters here had to turn in their ballots.
As for late ballots, the percentage that came in too late in Oregon’s five largest counties was 0.16 percent. In Washington’s: 0.25 percent.
If the Election Day requirement disenfranchised any Oregon voters, they’re not complaining about it. County auditors in Washington hear a lot more complaints about delayed election results due to the fact that only about 60 percent of ballots are turned in by Election Day.
When ballots come in after Election Day, they still have to be opened, inspected, logged in and tallied – which is why some close races aren’t called for weeks.
When results are delayed, with the apparent front-runner switching back and forth, as has happened many times, it can lead to voter cynicism and distrust.
The distrust spread across the state in 2004, during the multiple ballot counts of the infinitesimally close gubernatorial race between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi. Even now, many Republicans remain convinced that massive voter fraud occurred in King County when “new” batches of ballots just kept popping up long after Election Day.
Sam Reed, the state’s outgoing secretary of state, has pushed for Washington to follow Oregon’s lead and require ballots to be received by Election Day. We hope his successor, Kim Wyman, also lobbies for that change – with exceptions for military and overseas voters, of course.
Sure, some voter education would be needed to smooth the way, particularly in the first election under the new rule. But Washington voters can’t be less capable of following directions than Oregonians, can they?