Outgoing Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed says this year's delayed election returns prove that reforms are needed to speed up the process, but there's just not enough political will to make it happen anytime soon.

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Outgoing Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed says this year’s delayed election returns prove that reforms are needed to speed up the process, but there’s just not enough political will to make it happen anytime soon.

As for the future of his party in this increasingly “blue” state, the three-term Republican says members must open their eyes and recognize certain political realities.

On Thursday, Reed visited The Seattle Times to discuss a broad range of issues before he leaves office. His list of accomplishments is long, and we’ll save our good-byes for another day.

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Reed did share his thoughts on two timely topics: the state’s mail-in ballot system and the state of the GOP in Washington.

Our editorial board has supported Reed’s call for moving up the deadline so that all ballots are received — not just postmarked — by 8 p.m. on election night. The measure hasn’t gained much traction in the Legislature, though. (Watch TVW’s coverage of this issue and host Anita Kissee’s interview with Reed here.)

“This (system) is what people are used to doing, and they’re concerned about disenfranchising some people because they might not get their ballots in early enough,” Reed explained.

However, he said those perceived challenges are not insurmountable. He mentioned a study that compared the fate of late ballots in Washington’s Clark County with those in Oregon’s Multnomah County, where voters are required to submit their ballot by election night. After crunching the figures, he said there were still more uncounted ballots on this side of the state line.

It’s not so much about which party might have the advantage with early voting, either.

Reed, the head of elections in Thurston County between 1978 and 2000, says county auditors are concerned the current system isn’t set up to count ballots quickly and that voters will have “unrealistic expectations.” He said his push to change the status quo is one of the rare differences between him and his successor, Kim Wyman.

Therefore, don’t expect Washington to follow the lead of other states anytime soon. Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn recently poked fun at Washington’s slower pace, likening it to the film, “Groundhog Day”:

Washington’s system adds a whole new level of thrill: For weeks after the election, you can get up every day, and it’s still election night.

Things may move less quickly around these parts, but Reed has played a role in ensuring Washington’s elections are fair and accurate.

The future of the Republican Party in Washington

Reed characterized this year’s GOP candidates for the state’s executive offices as “a quality group.” He is surprised that Wyman, his successor, was the only Republican to win her race.

“I was genuinely excited about the slate of candidates we had… and I thought they could make a difference in Washington,” he said. “They gave up so much of their time, their lives and their resources to do this. It’s going to be hard for them to do this again, plus it’s the first time we’ve had so many open seats in office.”

Famously moderate and chided by some on the right for not doing more to help his party’s candidate in the 2004 gubernatorial race, Reed says the GOP needs “to diversify and get broader participation.”

“We’ve been hurt here in the state of Washington by idiots at the national level who’ve said stupid things like ‘legitimate rape’… and (John) Koster’s comment didn’t help, either,” said Reed, who describes himself as pro-choice and pro-gay rights. “We need the social conservatives to develop the political sophistication to understand how candidates who are running in this state — who win — tend to be more moderate than Republicans on social issues. And they need to accept that.”

Reed says he also “assumes” that this year’s elections were heavily swayed by the national wave of support for Democratic candidates, as well as the statewide ballot measures to approve same-sex marriage and legalize marijuana.

If there’s any hope of a “comeback,” Reed says he sees potential in some of the Republicans in the Washington Senate because of their backgrounds in governance, moderate positions, and problem-solving skills.

What’s next
Reed says he plans to “retire” between writing, developing a professorship in civility at his alma mater, Washington State University, and possibly participating in a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Oh, he also wants to fit in a few more rounds of tennis.

Perhaps we need to remind him of the two words his wife, Margie, said to him following his last speech in 2008: “That’s enough.”