Sam Reed forecasts what to expect on Election Night

November 2, 2012

Retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed was a guest on TVW's Inside Olympia last night discussing what to expect on Election Night next week.

According to Reed:

  • Approximately 60% of ballots should be ready for counting on Nov 6 (up from around 55% in previous years).
  • 90% of ballots should be on hand by the end of the week.
  • This means it could be Friday Nov 9 or later in the month before the results of close races are known.

So while we wait weeks to learn the winner of close races, our neighbors in Oregon (the only other all vote by mail state) will receive "unofficial results" on Election Night due to the state's requirement that ballots be received by Election Day and not just be postmarked.

Changing Washington's ballot deadline to mirror Oregon's has long been a goal of Reed.

As noted by yesterday's Walla Walla Union Bulletin editorial:

Outgoing Secretary of State Sam Reed has suggested requiring all ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

This change would allow elections to be wrapped up faster.

Our neighbors to the south, Oregon, implemented this simple fix. It has worked extremely well.

The only change for voters is a little thinking ahead. Voters either have to mail their ballots several days before Election Day or drop them in drop boxes throughout communities.

A clear winner in Oregon elections can generally be established within a few hours of polls closing. Close races can be settled in a matter of a few days.

The Oregon approach seems to increase voter participation. During the presidential election of 2008, the voter turnout rate in Washington state was 84.6 percent. Oregon’s voter turnout that year was 85.7 percent.

Even under Washington's current post-mark by Election Day deadline, county auditors encourage voters not to take a chance by mailing their ballots on Election Day and instead drop them off in a ballot-box to ensure they are eligible for being counted:

In fact, county auditors estimate "thousands" of votes in Washington won't count this year because they will be mailed after the deadline. This is why some support the "definitive" deadline of having ballots due by 8 p.m. on Election Night. Cowlitz County's Auditor notes that due to sharing media with Oregon, very few of its ballots are received after Election Day showing that voter education on the deadline is important:

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day. NASS reports:

  • In three states, absentee ballots must be returned prior to Election Day.
  • In 36 states, absentee ballots must be returned by Election Day.
  • In 11 states and the District of Columbia, additional time for the arrival of absentee ballots is provided after Election Day, as long as the absentee ballot is postmarked by Election Day.

Here is a summary of when mail-in ballots are due in each state.

Update 11/15

Here is a debate between Secretary of State Sam Reed and Rep. Hunt on whether to change the state's ballot deadline to Election Day like in Oregon: