Editorial: Revote won’t fix the system

An impressive number of sign-wavers favoring a revote turned out in Oak Harbor Saturday morning to make their case to passing motorists on Highway 20. Whether they reflect the majority is hard to say, but they do suggest strong support in Whidbey Island’s population center for another chance to vote in the governor’s race.

Ultimately, a revote decision will rest with the state Supreme Court, which would have to throw out the results of the controversial Nov. 2 election between Gov.-elect Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi. And the Legislature would have to act, as a revote is not part of the process set forth by existing law. As we understand it, if the court throws out the election results, the lieutenant governor would become governor until the next general election.

Even if a revote is held, it won’t solve the real problem with elections in Washington state. The simple fact is that whenever a race falls within a percentage point or two, we’ll have no idea who the actual winner is. We can blame this squarely on the widespread use of absentee ballots, which have been promoted for years by the Legislature, secretaries of state and county auditors.

Absentee ballots do increase voter participation, and they do cost less than hiring poll workers to oversee proper elections, but in the end they’re too prone to abuse and misuse to be counted on to give us an accurate vote total.

The one positive thing to come out of the 2004 election process is that the glaring weaknesses of absentee ballots have been exposed. More votes were cast than there were people registered. Obviously, some people receive more than one ballot and use them. Dead people voted. Obviously, spouses filled out their late loved one’s ballot. There was great controversy over matching the signatures on absentees to signatures on file in the courthouse. Ludicrously, absentee ballots force election workers to become handwriting experts — an imprecise science, at best.

Finally, absentee ballots destroy the very concept of the secret ballot, which is the underpinning of democracy itself. Inarguably, some people are filling out others’ ballots, forging signatures, or just intimidating “loved ones” to vote their way.

As a result of absentees, we’ll never know who really would have won a close election. So get rid of absentee ballots, or learn to be content to know that all future elections will, as they say, only be close enough for government work.

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