The Seattle Times editorial board is once again arguing for making it more difficult to vote.
AH, the weekend after the election and that weird feeling of knowing it could be several weeks before voters learn results of the Seattle mayoral race, a contest essentially tied.
Actually, as the Times’ own news report acknowledges, Mike McGinn took a “decisive lead” in the mayoral race by 8PM last night, but the editorial board writes its weekend editorials in advance, so I guess it would be unreasonable to expect a newspaper to go back and edit something as trivial as a lede to reflect something as trivial as actual news.
Wouldn’t want to learn results too close to Election Day, would we?
Personally, I find the suspense rather exciting, as do, apparently my readers, judging from the sustained traffic HA has generated in the days following the election. In fact, HA rose to prominence covering the excruciatingly drawn out 2004 gubernatorial contest, and I’m guessing the Times sold a helluva lot of newspapers doing the same.
So apart from potentially interfering with their ability to pen a Sunday editorial Friday morning that can maintain its factual relevance much past Friday evening, I’m not sure what the Times editors are complaining about.
New York managed to count its ballots Election Night, so Mayor Bloomberg knew results as he tucked himself into bed. Virginia? New Jersey? No problem.
And as a transplanted East Coaster, I can confidently assure you that there is nothing native Seattleites want more than to be more like Virginia, New Jersey and of course, New York.
Here in the high-tech Northwest, vote counting is slow. Washington lawmakers absurdly refuse to change a law that says ballots must be postmarked — not received — by Election Day.
So when the Times editors say it is downright “absurd” of lawmakers to “refuse to change a law that says ballots must be postmarked — not received — by Election Day,” they unambiguously imply that the need to require ballots to be received by Election Day is obvious. You know… it would be absurd to disagree.
But what exactly is the problem that the Times is attempting to solve?
Clearly, the Times antsy, ADHD editors don’t like to be kept waiting, but while close races do occur under our current system, they are the exception not the rule, and many such races would still remain undecided on election night, regardless of the deadline for mailing in one’s ballot. For example, of the 185 countywide and city races held in King County on Tuesday, currently only two remain within the mandatory recount margin: ballot propositions in Black Diamond and Normandy Park.
Yeah, sure, it took a few days to determine the winner in Seattle’s mayoral race, but other than a couple sleepless nights on the part of Mallahan and McGinn, what harm was done? The Times doesn’t even attempt to make a public policy argument for why definitively knowing the results sooner on a bare handful of close races is worth making it more difficult to vote.
This sets up a lengthy wait during most of November for ballots from New Zealand, the Arctic and other locations to arrive by burro.
That is, if by “lengthy” they mean a couple days and if by “burro” they mean the U.S. Postal Service. Talk about being absurd. No doubt ballots have occasionally come from as far away as New Zealand or the Artic, but the overwhelming majority arrive by the Friday following the election.
Oregon has had all-mail elections for more than 10 years but its law says ballots have to be received by Election Day. Voters know the mailing deadline and use the many convenient drop boxes if they are tardy. Votes are counted promptly.
And Oregon also has a progressive income tax, but I don’t see the Times editorializing in favor of that.
Almost every year, Secretary of State Sam Reed introduces legislation to change the rule. But county auditors and lawmakers protest that they will disenfranchise voters.
I suppose it would be elitist of me to suggest that the collective judgment of 39 county auditors and 147 legislators might somewhat balance the opinion of Sam Reed and the half dozen Blethen-appointed hacks on the Times editorial board.
Oregon voters don’t feel disenfranchised. In fact, Oregon election officials say it can be quite difficult to read a postmark.
And nobody knows the mood of Oregon voters better than the editors of the Seattle Times, who are so in touch with their own readers that they managed to endorse the losing candidate in both contested countywide races, the mayor’s race, and two out of four Seattle city council contests.
The dirty little secret in Washington is thousands of ballots go uncounted every year because they arrive with outdated postmarks.
As opposed to the tens of thousands of ballots that would go uncounted each year due to outdated postmarks should the Times’ proposal be enacted.
Also, King County should be treating Election Week the same way electrical workers treat a power failure: by working around the clock.
Um, in defense of King County Elections workers, even though it took them until Friday to determine the mayoral winner from Tuesday’s election, that’s still three days faster than it took City Light’s electrical workers to restore my power after the 2006 windstorm… and I didn’t have to freeze my ass off in the interim. I’m just sayin’….
Clearly, the county has had its challenges. Voters decided late in the election cycle and held onto ballots much longer than normal.
And these very same late voters broke decisively for Mike McGinn. Which brings us to the most serious concern regarding the Times’ proposal: it might not only determine the outcome of a close race sooner, it could potentially change it.
Indeed, considering the dynamics of the Seattle mayoral race, had voters been required to post their ballots by the previous Friday, Joe Mallahan might very well have won. And whoever you supported in this race, that would be an unintended consequence that deserves considerably more thought than the Times editors are willing or able to give.
Election operations had to be moved to higher ground because of flood concerns. Officials, understandably, try to be as careful as possible after the 2004 gubernatorial election.
Staffing has been enhanced by about 400 but should be boosted more. And election workers should work all day and all night Election Week. Voters deserve a more modern and speedy ballot-processing system.
So the Times is suggesting that KCE should hire and train enough temporary workers to fill three shifts a day during election week, which I suppose would difficult but doable, if at considerable additional expense. Perhaps the Times would be willing to give up its newly won B&O tax break and its longtime sales tax exemption to help pay for the manpower necessary to count ballots faster?
The point is, while everybody would prefer that ballots be counted a little faster, there are costs and tradeoffs involved. And I’m not convinced that the tradeoffs, at least, are worth it.