WA Ballots-Early Mailing

Before addressing ballots, I want to recommend Prof. Heather Cox Richardson’s post regarding Tuesday night’s debate for perspective on Trump’s performance: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/september-29-2020

Then, on ballots: To me this was striking news–news I learned was only due to become public today:

The Spokane County Auditors Office will mail out ballots a week earlier than usual, Thursday and Friday, of next week, October 8 and 9. Washington State’s election procedures are specified by statute, i.e. the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The applicable law is RCW 29A.40.070, which says “the county auditor must mail ballots to each voter at least eighteen days before each primary or election,” [the bold is mine]. Eighteen days before the election has been standard across the 39 counties of Washington State for as long as I’ve paid attention, so a decision to send ballots out a week early stands out.

Given the well-publicized Trumpian meddling with the function of the United States Postal Service and Mr. Trump’s loud casting of doubt over mail-in ballots, an exception to custom in the interests of an orderly election process makes a lot of sense. People will receive their ballots in time to vote them and put them in the mail (or in a county-controlled Dropbox) before the 8PM November 3rd postmark deadline. The current recommendation from the County Auditors is that if you plan to use the mail you should put your ballot in the mail at least one week before November 3. That should be safe. If you use an official Dropbox, earlier is better for the sake of orderly and timely processing, but ballots dropped in by 8PM November 3 are assured of being gathered and counted.

The more ballots received before election day the more can be queued up for the vote counting on the night of the election–and the more solid the early results. (Conversely, the more folks dilly-dally in submitting their ballots the more the final result may depend on late-arriving, but still legitimate, ballots.) Washington State has a voting system that is fundamentally sound, a system which, with relatively minor adjustment, can withstand the challenges posed by Covid-19.

I learned from Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton yesterday that Washington State Auditors and the Secretary of State met three weeks ago. In that meeting’s discussion it was agreed that those of the 39 counties that could manage it would drop ballots earlier than the customary 18 days. It turns out that for a populated county like Spokane moving up the date is a logistical feat involving coordination of multiple vendors who do the printing, envelope stuffing, and mailing, among a host of other details of which most of us are completely unaware. 

Political campaigns and the media need to adjust the timing of their voter outreach plans to the early arrival of ballots. Flexibility varies. It appears that the Spokesman Review, for example, cannot shift the planned rollout of its Election Guide issue from its October 14th date, which now will fall almost a week after voters have their ballots in hand. 

Many of my readers have paid a lot of attention to this year’s general election and will have no hesitation in marking their ballots. After watching the national humiliation of Trump’s performance in the debate last Tuesday, marking my ballot will be simple. I don’t know of a single Republican currently holding public office who has clearly called out this evil buffoon. Conversely, I am very impressed with the expertise, fundamental decency, and social conscience of the incumbent Democratic office holders and the Democratic candidates for state, local, and national office that appear on my ballot. Therefore, I will, without hesitation, checkmark the “Prefers Democratic Party” candidate in every race. [On judgeships I recommend the Progressive Voters Guide referenced below.] This is new for me, which some of my readers may find surprising. The Republican Party deserves to spend some time in the wilderness to introspect and attempt to re-invent itself after its four year long endorsement of white supremacy, xenophobia, and parading armed militias. A Party that depends on these ideas and people for the votes to remain in office has lost its soul. 

I will drop my ballot in a Dropbox by the day after I receive it. A few days later I will check at MyVote.wa.gov to make sure the Spokane County Elections Office acknowledges receipt. 

There are many good resources for assessing the local races with which you might not be familiar:

The recorded Candidate Forums posted by the League of Women Voters: 

The Progressive Voters Guide (now available in eight states–check it out): 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. One of the most confusing things about elections in these United States is that each state makes its own rules about the details of voter registration and the management of elections The result is that few citizens are aware of the details of voting and voter registration even in their own state, much less are they aware of voter suppression in other states. Southern states successfully used such local state control of voting to restrict access to the ballot for racial minorities following the Civil War, essentially using this system to perpetuate slavery. The federal government of the United States finally enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address this fundamental infringement of civil rights of minority citizens. After realigning its interests to that of southern racists (partly in response to the passage of the Voting Rights Act), Republican operatives set out to dismantle and de-fang the Act. After decades of planning and court appointments, they managed to negate essential parts of the Act in a Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. 

Shelby v. Holder declared unconstitutional the “pre-clearance” oversight the federal government had held over election law in certain states. Once released from the need to seek pre-clearance from the Attorney General several states almost immediately set about once again to restrict voting access to certain voters, just one part of the Republican efforts to suppress voting by any group deemed unfriendly to their cause. 

Recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby v. Holder rings in my ears: “”Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”