For most election races we will probably know the outcome sometime tonight. For those close races, however, it will take a few more days and perhaps weeks to know the victors. That is because that although Washington is all vote by mail, ballots aren’t due on Election Day but simply need to be postmarked.

For our neighbors in Oregon, however, their ballots are actually due on Election Day. How is that process working for Oregon? Here is what I was told last year by Brenda Bayes, Elections Deputy Director for Oregon:

“Oregon has been a complete vote by mail state since voters cast their ballot to expand vote by mail to all elections by a vote of 757,204 to 334,021 at the 1998 general election. Voters have now had experience in Oregon’s vote by mail system for fourteen years. A voter has many different ways to ensure that their voted ballot is received by the county elections officials no later than 8:00 pm on Election Day. County dropsites are placed throughout the state starting the 18th day prior to an election up through 8:00 pm on Election Day. Voters have the option of dropping their ballots off at official dropsites, mailing their ballot by mail or dropping their ballot off at any county elections office . . .

Our office typically do not receive complaints regarding a voter feeling like they are ‘disenfranchised’ solely based upon the 8:00 pm restriction. An individual may contact their legislature if they wish to ask them to draft a bill during session to allow for postmarks on ballot. To my knowledge, there has not been any such legislation to extend this deadline. Oregon voters appear to appreciate that they are able to have ‘unofficial results’ quickly after the 8:00 pm deadline regarding candidates and measures. If Oregon were to go to a ‘postmark’ deadline it would delay these unofficial results.”

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed tried for several years to have Washington follow Oregon’s lead but was not successful. Before leaving office he told me:

“I have long supported a requirement that ballots be returned to the county elections offices, by mail or drop box, by Election Day.  Neighboring Oregon, which pioneered vote-by-mail via a citizen initiative more than a decade ago, has found that good voter education and steady reminders of the return deadline have produce excellent results.  In Washington, even with the postmark-only requirement, we get a sizable number of ballots returned too late to be counted, and that is always sad.

Every election cycle, we get numerous complaints from candidates, the parties, voters, the media and others about how long it takes to get substantially complete results, particularly in tight races. It is human nature to want to know the results once Election Night is here and the deadlines are past. People want to know who won. But in Washington, only about 60 percent of the ballots have been received and processed for tallying by Election Night. The rest are still in transit or yet to be processed and we have to wait until the end of the election week or early the following week to get substantially complete returns.

I concede that it is a difficult sell in the Legislature and it is understandable that no one wants any voter disenfranchised because of the return deadline. But it is a good change to consider in the future.  Meanwhile, I encourage our excellent county auditors and their election departments to ramp up efforts to expedite the handling and tallying of ballots. We need to improve on our technology for processing ballots – including automated signature-checking to expedite the process. Certainly, accuracy comes first, but speed and efficiency are also very important to the voters of Washington.”

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.

Additional Information
Comparing late ballots in OR and WA
Newspapers call for election reform


[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image used under standard license:]