Military ballots: lost in the mail, or in partisan politics?

We’ve heard a lot of partisan squawking from Dino Rossi and his paranoid parrots on the right wing blogs, about corrupt Democrats trying to steal the gubernatorial election. And some of it is beginning to cross the line from mean to weird.

Over on (un)Sound Politics, our friend Stefan — angered that Snohomish County won’t deliver its voter registration database in a more convenient file format — has regressed to calling Auditor Bob Terwilliger a “snot nosed jerk.” Meanwhile, co-unSounder Jim Miller continues to calmly push his theory that Democrats stole the election through “distributed vote fraud,” a pseudo-scholarly term (coined by Jim) that relies on the thoroughly insulting premise:

6. Cheaters are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.

Yeah… right, Jim. Way to add to the public debate.

Unfortunately, while both sides focus on partisan spin, we are missing an opportunity to address some bipartisan issues. For example, obscured in all the hyperbole over voter fraud and enhanced ballots, is the longtime problem of disenfranchised overseas military personnel.

As Robert Jamieson points out in his column in today’s Seattle P-I (“In the military, out of the ballot loop“) hundreds of military voters may have received their absentee ballots too late to vote. There was a lot of big talk from Republicans for a couple of days, about protecting the voting rights of our troops, but the issue seems to have been forgotten once the facts inconveniently got in the way of pinning the blame on evil Democrats. According to Jamieson:

The Secretary of State’s Office tells me it hasn’t received even a trickle of complaints. Ballots were mailed out in time — on Oct. 8, more than three weeks before the election.

Delays or snafus could have occurred once the ballots hit the postal network or entered the military mail-handling system, conceded Pamela Floyd, assistant elections director for voter services.

She said military and overseas ballots are not subject to usual postmark rules; the ballots, provided they were signed and dated by Nov. 2, just had to arrive in a county elections office by Nov. 16, the day before certification.

That’s right, despite all the bluster we heard that malfeasance or incompetence on the part of (presumably Democratic) county officials had denied our troops the right to vote, it turns out that ballots statewide were sent out “in time.”

Unfortunately, “in time” isn’t timely enough.

While we certainly need to explore some technological solutions, I’m guessing that if the creative minds in both parties put as much effort into solving this problem as they do into propagandizing it, they just might come up with a simple, immediate fix, like… gee, I don’t know… mailing out the ballots a couple of weeks sooner? Of course, this would require moving our primary from September to the spring — like most of the rest of the nation — a change that has been resisted by legislators on both sides of the aisle.

It may come as quite a surprise to those of us living through the election-that-would-not-die, but a dispassioned (that rules out Stefan) statistical analysis of the error rates will likely show that the procedures in place functioned relatively well. Still, the excruciating closeness and scrutiny of the vote count has clearly uncovered flaws that can and must be fixed.

Ensuring that our military receive their absentee ballots on time should be a noncontroversial addition to the top of our election reform “to do” list. It’s not only the right thing do… we already know how to do it.


  1. 1

    Jim King spews:

    Goldy- we don’t even need to move the primary to the spring- moving it to the Tuesday after Labor Day would solve the problem…

    Aside from the tradition of fall primaries, the biggest problem with a spring primary is that it becomes an excuse to do away with the fundraising freeze. As one of those evil lobbyists- but without deep pocket clients- the end of the extortion that some legislators practiced was quite welcome. And it was good public policy.

  2. 2

    jcricket spews:

    Great post Goldy. Another Republican accusation bites the dust. It seems when you examine things closely, all their accusations fall apart. I agree – no one should be disenfranchised because of postal system errors – and that’s something that needs to be fixed. But that’s always obscured when Republicans are accusing the Dems of some conspiracy to deny the military their right to vote.

    I don’t see why we cant move the primary at least a couple of weeks earlier. Seems like a “no-brainer” to help mitigate this problem and to help provide voters some space between the primary and general election to better understand their choices.

  3. 3

    DCF spews:

    We could eliminate the primary all together! Let people qualify for the ballot by having registered voters sign petitions on their behalf. Think about how much money it would save to get rid of the primary. Our state’s primary doesn’t work like a primary is suppose to anyway.

    As I’ve said many times, create a Department of Defense absentee voter form that members of the military can pick-up at their local headquarters. The military member then goes on line and completes the ballot with the candidates names posted on their county’s web site, signs the ballot and sends it back to the address posted on their county web site. What could be easier????

  4. 4

    Richard Pope spews:

    Even if they were mailed out on October 8, 2004, that was only 25 days before the general election. Federal standards call for mailing these ballots out at least 60 days before the general election.

    That may seem ridiculous, since the primary is only 49 days before the general election, and requires three weeks or so to be certified at the Secretary of State level. However, this is the state’s problem, and not the voter’s problem. Federal law guarantees the right of military personnel stationed abroad (or outside their home state), as well as non-military citizens (i.e. the rest of us) residing in foreign countries — the right to vote by absentee ballot.

    Washington should send military and overseas voters their primary election absentee voters just as soon as filing is completed in late July (allowing 50 or so days, instead of 60). A general election absentee ballot should be mailed out at least 60 days before the general election. This can be done by listing all of the candidates who filed in late July. After the primary is certified, a revised general election absentee ballot can be sent, with just those candidates who qualify for the general election.

    This is not as impractical as it seems. In Louisiana, for example, there is only 28 days between the primary and general (actually run-off, since they have a “top two” system) election. Military and overseas voters are given a special general election absentee ballot, listing all the candidates in each race. These voters have the right to rank candidates in order of preference. If # 1 did not make it to the general, then # 2 will count, and so forth.

  5. 5

    David spews:

    Richard Pope is brilliant: “rank candidates in order of preference. If # 1 did not make it to the general, then # 2 will count, and so forth.

    IRV! We don’t need no stinkin’ primary . . . .

  6. 6

    Richard Pope spews:

    David, it is not IRV. It is simply a way to make sure that a military or overseas voter from Louisiana has the chance to cast a valid vote for someone who actually made it to the general election.

    IRV would be nearly impossible to administer in the United States. We elect far too many offices for that. In Australia, your ballot has only one race for the House of Commons, and a ranking of the candidates for the Senate (which is STV, the version of IRV used for a type of proportional representation in multi-member districts.

    In Washington, most people voted for at least 17 or 18 offices in the recent election (Pres, Sen, Cong, Gov, LtG, AG, SoS, Aud, Treas, InsC, SPI, LandsC, 3 SupremeCt, 2 St Rep, St Sen (1/2 of districts)). It would be even more fun with contested Superior Court races.

    I don’t see how we could possibly have ballot forms that would lend themselves to proper coding for IRV. Surely we wouldn’t want to do all of this counting by hand. And even if we did have the proper ballot forms, a significant percentage of people would screw up big time when filling them out.

  7. 7

    Dan spews:

    Military OVERSEAS ballots, otherwise known as “submarine” ballots, were sent out immediately after the primary was certified.

  8. 8

    Goldy spews:

    Military OVERSEAS ballots, otherwise known as “submarine” ballots, were sent out immediately after the primary was certified.

    Dan… are you saying some military overseas ballots were sent out earlier than other absentee ballots? Prior to Oct. 8? From where is your information?