Two days after the election and Shannon Campion was at her office still working. Still waiting ... waiting to see if Initiative 1240 will become law.
“It’s a close one,” she said, poring over election results from the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. It’s a painstakingly slow process for Campion, who has spent the past five years of her life working to get the initiative passed. “You just want to know right away that we've won,” she said.
On election night, King County released results for xxx,000 ballots -- just over half of the 1 million ballots county elections officials predicted. On Wednesday, the county only counted about 50,000 ballots. A glitch in a ballot scanner shut things down for a while, slowing the process. By late Thursday, 90,000 ballots were to be released.
But why such a big drop off? The answer lies within the mail-in ballot system.
Washington is one of only two states in America that has an all-mail voting system. Oregon is the other. Mail-in ballots make it easier for people to vote, but it takes much longer to process those votes.
King County ballot counters had 3 weeks to process all the ballots that were mailed in early. That’s why more than half-a-million votes were released on election night. Then they had to start working on the rest -- about 400,000 ballots.
There are seven different steps involved in counting a single ballot, from sorting the envelopes, to verifying the voter’s signature, to tabulating the votes. The county hired 500 temporary workers to process the votes. They’re working 8 to 12 hours a day. Even if the county hired more, there wouldn't be enough trained managers to supervise them all.
In Oregon, the other all mail-in state, the situation is different. First of all, the state’s most populous county, Multnomah, has far fewer people than King County. The biggest difference, however, is the fact that Oregon mandates that all ballots be delivered by Election Day. In Washington, by contrast, ballots need only be postmarked by that date.
That means more ballots are tabulated later in Washington. There was a movement by outgoing Secretary of State Sam Reed to change to a system more like Oregon’s, but it died in Olympia.
King County Director of Elections Sherril Huff said would support a change, but that's too late for 2012. “It's one of those things voters were not prepared for, that vote by mail requires additional time in processing," she said.
A recent survey by King County Elections officials found 86 percent of voters “satisfied” with the way things are going, even with the delays.
[Full election results at www.king5.com/vote.]