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Snail mail too slow for ballots

Posted: June 10, 2016 4:08 p.m.
Updated: June 11, 2016 2:00 a.m.
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In this day of near-instantaneous communication, we find it surprising — yes, even perturbing — that we’re being told by Los Angeles County election officials we must wait until next month to find out the results of some important races on last Tuesday’s ballot.

Of course, we know the results of a race aren’t official until they’re certified, and that results from the relatively small number of provisional ballots — those cast at polling places Tuesday requiring verification before they can be counted — will be added to the tally late.

We can remember — in some very rare instances — when the certified results of an election actually changed the initial outcome reported after votes were counted on election night.

Case in point: Steve Fox’s run for state Assembly in 2012. Initially, it appeared Fox lost the Assembly seat to Lancaster City Councilman Ron Smith by a narrow margin.

But when the final count was in, it was Fox who won — by just 145 votes.

That wasn’t determined until the day before the Assembly swearing-in ceremony. Smith had weeks of preparation time for an office he hadn’t won, and Fox was thrown into the seat at the very last minute — more surprised, probably, than his opponent, and certainly less well prepared.

No doubt both men would agree the situation was disruptive.

Such situations are, thankfully, extremely rare. But they’re likely to become more commonplace now that state law allows county election officials to accept vote-by-mail ballots for days after the election is held, provided they’re postmarked election day.

Los Angeles County’s registrar-recorder, Dean Logan, revealed nearly 205,000 vote-by-mail ballots were sitting unopened and uncounted Wednesday, the day after the election. And many more were no doubt still in the mail.

This allows the results of important contests like the one for Fifth District Supervisor to remain in limbo for weeks, which seems a real step backward in our era of lightning-swift communication.

What may be an inconvenience for some and a disappointment for others could be a downright hindrance to those seeking office.

When the outcomes of races aren’t known until July, campaigning is delayed into the summer, when voters are understandably focused on vacations, not elections. This puts candidates at a disadvantage.

Certainly that possibility has always been with us. Just ask Ron Smith.

But increasing its likelihood seems to us an unnecessary step backward in the election process.

Election day should be a hard deadline for receiving ballots. Those who can’t get their mail-in ballots into the mail early enough to be received by then aren’t trying very hard.

L.A. County needs to get on board with the 21st century. We shouldn’t be counting ballots at the pace of a Third World country.

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