Does ballot counting “drag on” because we insist on all mail-in voting?

The election hasn’t even been certified yet, and already Rosenthal and the Seattle Times are calling for the disenfranchisement of Democrats, and (this year) of voters further left than Democrats.

Why the counting drags on long after King County voting is over

It’s like clockwork—after every election, someone is sure to publish the silly and false assertion that Oregon posts more complete results on election night because of the arrival versus postmark by Election Day policy.

In 2011 Multnomah County (Oregon’s largest), even with its more restrictive deadline and much smaller population, only 45 percent of ballots were returned by the Friday before the election—nearly the exact same percentage as King County. The Rosenthal article implies that things are worse this year. In fact, as of Friday 11/15, 175,406 ballots had been counted in Seattle . 82,368 of these (46%) were counted by 8pm on 11/5.

The typical 40-47% of votes reported by King County Elections on election night is almost always a large enough sample to accurately project the winner in all but a handful of the hundreds of contests countywide. If we insist on keeping all mail-in voting, there is no alternative to waiting a week to see how the closer contests will turn out because it is simply not possible to speed up the slow step of signature validation by very much. Clearing the backlog faster is of course possible, but only if we follow Oregon ‘s lead and pay elections workers for overtime and weekends. And then the promoters of disenfranchisement will predictably whine about paying more taxes to do that.

Even electronic signature validation doesn’t speed up the process that much, and Rosenthal neglects to mention that this method has specifically been rejected by King County Elections because they have tested it and found it too inaccurate. Advocates for the 1% will always prefer fewer eligible ballots counted faster and more sloppily. The 99% will always prefer maximum accuracy and voter enfranchisement.

Martha Koester

More on 2009 and 2011 from Goldy

The facts behind the ballot deadline debate (2009)

As can be seen, 452,522 ballots were received by election day, roughly 76% of the total number cast. Yet only 254,261 were counted by the end of the day… barely more than the total number of ballots in hand the Friday prior to the election.

The bulk of the remainder of the ballots cast arrived the next day, with 572,611 in hand at KCE, or over 96% of the total number cast. Yet only 308,650 of these were counted by the end of Wednesday.

There are several obvious lessons to learn from the data. The first is that KCE can’t keep pace with the ballots it is already receiving, thus any delay in reporting returns is due not to a lack of ballots, but rather a lack of capacity to process them. This is true in Oregon as well, which typically reports only 50% of total votes by the first ballot drop election night, not much better than King County , and generally somewhat worse than Washington state as a whole.

That said, even the 43% of total votes reported by KCE on election night was a large enough sample to accurately project the winner in all but a handful of the hundreds of contests countywide. Candidates and voters do know the winners on election night, at least in the vast majority of races.


Yes, it would be nice to get near complete results on election night the way most other states do, and they way we used to get here in Washington state before mail-in ballots started to dominate our voting, but this is the nature of mail-in elections. It takes time and resources to sort, process and verify signatures just in preparation for counting, and so we’ll never approach the sort of election night returns the likes of Reed, Gov. Gregoire and the Seattle Times editorial board apparently want. They sure don’t do it Oregon , even with their received by deadline.

Personally, I’d rather we get the count right, than fast. And I’m not sure I’m willing spend the extra money necessary to do both, let alone disenfranchise tens of thousands of late voters in the process.

Moving the ballot deadline will not speed up election returns (2010)

With a peak processing capacity of little more than 75,000 ballots a day, the 373,941 ballots King County tallied on Tuesday night barely exceeded the 349,670 ballots it had received as of the Friday before the election. Indeed, by the time the elections center opened its doors Monday morning, its staff had already fallen hopelessly behind. (And FYI, the same was true in 2009.)

So how would following the Oregon model speed things up? Well, on its own, it wouldn’t, and to understand why, we need merely look at the ballot return statistics for Oregon ’s largest county, Multnomah, where even with its more restrictive deadline, only 45 percent of ballots were returned by the Friday before the election… nearly the exact same percentage as King County . Both counties received more than half of their ballots over the final few days of the election, the only difference being that Multnomah’s election was one day shorter. (Far from being the long, drawn out process Reed implies, over 98% of valid Washington ballots are received by the day after the election.)

Well then, how does Multnomah County manage to report results so much faster? Simple: they put more resources into it. Multnomah County processes ballots over the weekend before the election, while King County does not. And while King County reports a single election night return a little after 8 PM, before heading home for the night, Multnomah County continues to process ballots overnight, issuing subsequent reports at 8 AM and throughout the next day. Of course, King could duplicate Multnomah’s efforts, but that would cost money.

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