When all the votes are in, nation and state face new realities

Individual American voters overcame natural disasters and persevered standing in long lineups for hours this week just to make their voices heard, putting the 2012 presidential election into the history books.

Well, almost.

Not all of the votes have been counted here in the state of Washington, and the outcome of several key races will depend on late-arriving ballots over the next few days. We may not know the name of our next governor until tomorrow, or sometime next week.

In our state, history is still in process.

That’s because Washington only requires ballots to be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day, not actually be in the hands of county election officers. It is something the 2013 Legislature can and should change immediately.

Not every question posed on the Nov. 6 ballot has been answered, but Washingtonians do have some clarity today.

 • President Barack Obama will lead an ailing nation through another four years with an unchanged congressional composite. The House remained in control of a sharply divided majority of Republicans, while Democrats added to a slim margin in the Senate.

If the numbers didn’t change, Americans can only hope that attitudes will.

For two years, House Republicans made it their No. 1 mission to thwart the president at every opportunity, stalling any productive action in hopes of pushing Mitt Romney into the White House. It didn’t work, and it has delayed economic recovery.

Can Republicans reconcile the disparate factions of Libertarians who want smaller government and fewer taxes with the party’s extreme fundamentalists on social issues? If Republicans expect to remain relevant in the 21st century – while white, middle-age males slowly lose their traditional position of privilege to the browning of America – it must examine its views on immigration and women’s issues.

But first, House Republicans must show a willingness to work for the nation’s common good, as Romney cajoled them to do in his concession speech Tuesday night.

“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to occasion,” Romney said, even while House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was rattling his sabre.

 • Maybe Olympia’s Denny Heck can make a difference in Congress as the first-ever elected representative from the newly created 10th Congressional District.

The Democrat was running well ahead of GOP challenger Dick Muri, as he should. Ultra-conservative Muri ran a campaign woefully out of touch with the 10th constituency, especially on social issues.

Heck campaigned on the idea that only voters could change the extreme partisanship in the other Washington by sending representatives like him who will focus on problem solving, not party politics. He’s right, and now it’s a big job ahead of him to deliver on that promise.

 • Thurston County voters made history on Election Day by helping to pass Referendum 74, giving statewide approval to the state’s same-sex marriage law.

Washington joined Maine and Maryland among states permitting same-sex couples to marry. Thurston voters were overwhelmingly in favor. The Washington and Maryland votes are the first to approve of gay marriage by a majority of a state’s voters, rather than through legislative action only.

Having pushed the rock to the top of the hill, it won’t be long now before other states follow suit, and someday most Americans won’t think twice about same-sex marriages. Over time, Washington’s law will demonstrate that yesterday’s fears about marriage equality were baseless.

 • Washington also made history on another front. Voters approved Initiative 502, which decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana for people over 21. Voters in Colorado passed a similar measure.

The marijuana initiative is unlikely to create any immediate changes. The state law, along with Washington’s medical marijuana law, still conflicts with the classification of marijuana as a narcotic under federal statutes. Until the feds reclassify marijuana, the regulated growing, distributing and selling of pot will not occur freely.

The real value of I-502 lies in furthering the national conversation about prohibition of a substance proven less harmful than alcohol, and the violent criminal activity resulting from its ban. Tuesday’s vote was a progressive step on a long road toward acceptance.