By Wednesday, six days before the election, more than half of the registered voters in Clark County had returned their ballots. But even the procrastinators out there can rest assured that their votes will be counted if they drop them in an official ballot box or have them postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
That is preferable to the system in some other states. And it brings up questions about how firmly our nation clings to the ideal that every vote counts.
In Washington, votes that are turned in on time are counted if they arrive sometime during the following three weeks. County election results must be certified three weeks after the election — in this case on Nov. 24. If a ballot postmarked by Nov. 3 gets stuck in the postal system but arrives by Nov. 23, it will be included in the final tally.
A less-extreme scenario occurred five years ago, when 1,147 ballots from Clark County were discovered at a postal distribution center in Portland three days after the August primary. The ballots were delivered and duly counted, giving a rightful voice to voters whose ballots were delayed through no fault of their own.
At the time, The Columbian argued editorially that ballots should be required to arrive by Election Day in order to provide more timely results. We soon saw the error of that position and have since reversed it.
In truth, making sure that voters who follow the rules have their votes count is more important than having convenient results on the night of the election. If, say, 10,000 ballots or 100,000 ballots were sent on time but arrived late, the ideals of democracy demand that they be counted.
Yet in many states, efforts to disenfranchise voters and not count every legitimate vote continue. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that absentee ballots in Wisconsin must be received by Election Day in order to be counted — a ruling in accordance with Wisconsin state law.
In a factually sloppy concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that states “want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election.”
In a dissenting opinion Justice Elena Kagan was more logical: “There are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more ‘suspicio(us)’ or ‘improp(er)’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night.”
With record voter turnout expected and with many states seeing unprecedented numbers of absentee or mail-in ballots, chaos could be in the air Tuesday night as the nation waits for results in the presidential election. Officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two key battleground states, have said that full official counts in those states could take several days.
And that is OK.
President Donald Trump has demanded that a clear winner be announced Tuesday night, but an accurate count that fully reflects the will of the public is more important than the peccadillos of the president.
We might have a presidential candidate declared the victor on Tuesday night, or we might not. And if patience is required on the part of the voting public, we offer one of the mantras of the news industry: It is better to get the story right instead of getting it fast and wrong. Nothing would sow chaos and suspicion more than a disputed election.
In Clark County, voters can rest assured that all ballots that should be counted will be counted.