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Why does it take so long to count ballots?

Workers at King County's ballot processing facility open mailed-in ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Renton, Wash. Election officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of votes were left to count on Wednesday, including those in the very close Governor's race between Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

With the governor’s race and charter schools still up for grabs in Washington, a lot of people are getting impatient waiting for results, and wondering why it takes so long to count the ballots and declare winners.

Check latest results

A snafu on Wednesday caused additional delays as King County Elections suffered a breakdown due to a record number of ballots to go through. Expect more results at 4:00 p.m. today. King County is scheduled to release their data at 4:30 p.m. and the Secretary of State’s office will report at 5:00 p.m.

One of the main reasons that we’re still waiting for results two days after Election Day is that Washington allows ballots to be postmarked by midnight on Election Day. That ensures several days of waiting at the mailbox.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said the state should consider doing what other states do and require the ballots be in by election day.

“So we would get a huge number counted on election day, but more importantly by say Friday of election week almost all of the ballots would be counted,” he said.

“Instead of an election day, we have an election month,” complained Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center, in a Seattle Times editorial.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Oregon has all-mail voting too but, unlike Washington, state ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.”

Reed agreed the Oregon model works well, but said the main reason the state hasn’t made the switch is because of technology. He said every signature must be reviewed before ballots are processed. Right now that’s done by hand. He believes it should be done by computer.

“That would really expedite things,” Reed said. “If the counties are able to have that, then I think they’re going to be more receptive to having the ballots arrive in on election day.”

On the King County Elections website, they explain the process for counting.

Here is Step 6:

Opening is a three-step process

1. The security envelope, containing the voted ballot, is removed from the return envelope and separated.
2. Once all return envelopes have been emptied and set aside, workers open the security envelopes and remove the ballots.
3. We visually inspect the ballot to determine if the votes as marked by the voter can be properly read by our scanning equipment. Ballots that are physically ready for scanning and tabulation proceed straight there. Ballots with physical damage or unclear voter marks are sent to Ballot Review.

Reed said some of the tightest races may not be decided until Friday or later.

Supporters of Referendum 74 who hope to legalize same-sex marriage officially say they have won. Though, their opponents have said they won’t be ready to concede until all the ballots are counted. The Washington governor’s race shows Inslee in the lead, but the numbers are still tight, and results on the charter school initiative are also unclear at this point.

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