Why so long to count absentee ballots?

It seems to me that absentee ballots should be counted as they come in, and the results kept secret until election night. Is there any reason why we have to wait for them?

Because they’ll still be coming in for a few days now. Some states, and all states in the case of servicemen, only require them to be postmarked on election day. They’ve got 10 days to roll in.

Guessing. If the ballots were counted before the polls close and the results did get out, that information could sawy the election. That is, let’s say most of the absentee ballots were for Candidate A. People who were planning to vote for Candidate B find out and say, “Oh, well, Candidate B doesn’t stand a chance. Why bother voting?” But what if those people who were discouraged from voting because they heard the result of the absentee ballots would have been enough to get Candidate B into office? Counting the absentee ballots beforehand affected the election.

Keep the results secret? All it takes is for one of the counters to say, “Man, A is winning!”. Maybe while he stands at a urinal talking to another counter… neither knowing there is a reporter sitting quietly in the stall.

The state of WA collects its votes by county, as do most states. The counties have until Nov. 22 to collect those absentee ballots and certify results, though the law is uniform in requiring mail-in ballots to be postmarked by midnight, Nov. 7 (or delivered to election officials).

BTW, the secretary of state here will certify election results on Dec. 7.

Currently the race for senator in this state is tied at 850,000 votes for Cantwell, Gorton. There are an estimated 900,000 votes “en route.” It’s surprising that they’re predicting ANY outcomes in Washington State given the fact that 33% of the totals are in USPS trucks. (There are 3.3M registered voters here.) Same thing goes for Oregon, where the ballot was entirely by mail and turnout incredibly high, percentage-wise.

You also want to hold off on counting absentee ballots until the inperson ballots are cast to make sure that somebody didn’t vote twice: once by mail, and once in person.

It’s not that hard to talk your way past an election official and say that you didn’t get your absentee ballot in the mail. That’s what happened to me in my very first election I voted in back in 1984. I didn’t get my CA absentee ballot at my dorm (the guy who shared the mailbox with me took it). So I drove to my registered polling place, threw myself at the mercy of the polling place workers and I cast a “challenge ballot”. My vote was counted until after every other ballot was counted to make sure that my absentee ballot didn’t turn up in the mail.

In Oregon, they count the votes earlier because ALL the votes come in the mail and I presume it’s harder to vote twice.

BobT makes an important point about mail-in ballots and the potential for voting twice. In Oregon, a friend working on the presidential campaign spent Tuesday assisting people to get to places where they could vote IN PERSON. These were people who had registered late; moved; or who had not received a ballot.

Presumably Oregon would do the reverse: count the in-person ballots last, doublechecking against the already-cast mail-in ballots.

Unlike Washington, all the Oregon ballots had to be to the elections office or other drop-off location by 8:00 p.m. Tuesday. The postmark meant nothing. So they could start counting mail-in ballots immediately.

Apparently it take longer to count mail-ins than regular ballots, as the counting was slower in Oregon than every other state. The 80+% turnout may have made things go slower as well.