Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Our View
Free Press Publishing Editorial Board 

All-mail election needs immediacy


November 19, 2020

Over the last few months, all eyes have been on Washington’s 16-year-old vote-by-mail system.

National media has been holding it up as an example of what should become the norm nationwide. But should it?

Yes, we have fastidious local election employees resolving problems. And yes, we have years of experience making vote-by-mail work. But, after watching what’s happening outside our state, it’s clear the nation isn’t ready for all-mail elections, whether it’s our system or another state’s.

Voting by mail appears to erode confidence in the electoral system. Nationally, we’ve seen it, as ballots turned up this year in garbage cans. We saw vote tallies swing wildly in the middle of the night this year. We’ve seen it with poll watchers being denied the ability to observe ballot counts. And in just the last couple days, we’ve seen it when nearly 3,000 ballots were “found” uncounted in Georgia.

In addition, all-mail voting also erodes the sense of community that comes with going to the local precinct polling place to cast your ballot.

Prior to all-mail voting, rural voters often cast ballots at their community grange hall, church or nearby community center. And at some locales, the first voter of the day was able to ring the bell telling voters the polls were open.

Going to your local polling place made you feel patriotic and very American. It made you proud to cast your ballot and have an election official put the “I Voted” sticker on your lapel.

The importance of voting was on clear display at the polls. Some of that Pomp and Circumstance remains in our small-town courthouses.

But not so much when you’re dropping your ballot in the mailbox.

Still, vote-by-mail has improved voter turnout, especially among younger adults. And it’s helped provide for a tracking system, where early voters can make sure their ballot reached its destination and will be counted.

There are other advantages, too. It’s easier — and often cheaper — to vote by mail. You don’t have to drive or walk to your precinct polling place. Your voting location is as close as the mailbox outside your front door.

Moreover, you can fill in your ballot from the comfort of your couch. And you don’t have to walk by election signs, campaigners or pollsters on your way to vote.

But in making voting easier, did we make it less consequential? Did we make it more susceptible to irregularities?

It certainly it feels that way, especially when what used to be election night has turned into election weeks.

Our state’s vote-by-mail system has taken the immediacy out of casting a ballot. You have your ballot more than two weeks ahead of the election. And in most election offices around the state, ballots that come during the last couple days of an election are not counted until a few days later. That is by design to give local election workers time to verify signatures, signatures that were previously verified at the poll when you showed your voter registration card and other identification.

Then there are the later-arriving ballots mailed and postmarked Election Day. Those ballots may not be counted until a week later, sometimes even after a winner has already been declared.

Vote-by-mail has raised questions of security, and not just in other states.

Remember the 2004 gubernatorial election?

If you recall, Republican Dino Rossi was declared the winner on Election Day and even after an additional count of late-arriving ballots. But as the system dragged on, more absentee ballots were “found,” ultimately overturning the outcome and handing the governor’s office to Democrat Christine Gregoire.

Yes, that was 16 years ago, and we have resolved many of the issues from that election.

Still, our system needs updated.

To be valid, ballots should have to be in election offices — or by extension, their drop boxes — on or before Election Day. That means voters would have to mail them a week ahead of time or bring them personally to a designated voting location.

Elections should end as soon as possible, rather than drag on. With few exceptions, we should know winners and losers – based on a complete counting – on election night or by the next morning.

Immediacy matters. Voter confidence matters.

If we can’t provide both immediacy and confidence, then maybe we should return to in-person voting, where proof of registration and citizenship is required.

— Our View is the opinion of the Free Press Publishing editorial board. The board includes Davenport Times Editor Jamie Henneman, Odessa Record Editor Terrie Schmidt-Crosby, Ritzville Adams County Journal Editor Katie Teachout and Publisher Roger Harnack.


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