All-mail election needs immediacy
Last updated 11/12/2020 at 10:20am
If we can provide it, maybe we should return to polling place voting
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 the nation isn’t ready for all-mail elections, whether it’s our system or another state’s.
Simply put, voting by mail appears to erode confidence in the electoral system. Nationally, we’ve see 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 we’ve also seen it here, with a signature-matching system that sometimes results in
ballots being rejected.
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 many locales, the first voter of the day was able to ring the grange hall or church bell telling voters the polls were open.
Local polling place made you feel patriotic and 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. 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 when what used to be election night has turned into election weeks.
Then there are the later-arriving ballots mailed and postmarked on 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? In our state, it remains a point of controversy because of late-arriving ballots found after election day was over.
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 some of the issues from that election. But we still generally prefer voting at the polls.
At the same time, we do understand that mail-in elections have become important to some voters who may have previously been disenfranchised.
Still, our system needs updated.
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 residency 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.