November is upon us. That means it’s almost Election Day: the last day of voting.
Here in the real Washington, voters are fortunate.
Despite national turmoil surrounding election procedures, there has been very little controversy about our well-refined vote-at-home system.
Just like most general elections held for the past decade plus, all voters were mailed their materials approximately three weeks before Election Day.
After filling them out carefully at home, Washingtonians can either return their ballots via secure drop box or via the USPS (it’s recommended to use a drop box at this point to ensure your ballot will be returned quickly to elections officials.)
There has been unprecedented enthusiasm to vote this year. Accordingly, early voting turnout is significantly higher than four years ago.
Statewide, over 3.1 million ballots have been received, equivalent to 65% of voters. In 2016, at this point, only 1.8 million ballots had been cast.
However, certain voters still need help to vote, and there are still 1.6 million ballots left that could be cast. That’s enough ballots to make a big difference in tight races. Washington often sees a big surge right at the end of the voting.
King County is opening six Vote Centers to better serve voters down the stretch. Speaking Saturday to commemorate the opening of the Vote Center at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Downtown Seattle were King County Elections Director Julie Wise and Executive Dow Constantine.
Voters could need to use a Vote Center — in Renton, Seattle, the University of Washington campus, Kenmore, Kent, and Federal Way — for many reasons.
If you need to update your registration, register for the first time, or simply have lost your ballot, the centers can help. Braille and sip-and-puff services will be available as well for voters with different abilities.
At each Vote Center, voters will be able to register to vote, receive their ballots, obtain voters pamphlets, and sit down to vote in designated areas.
Director Wise stressed that Vote Centers are not the same thing as polling places. There are no voting machines, voting booths, or poll books.
These services have been available at elections offices in counties statewide during the voting period. King County has expanded the sites to better serve lower-turnout communities in such a large jurisdiction.
King County’s record turnout has not been evenly spread county-wide.
Compare that to the lowest turnout legislative district: the 30th. Only 58% of ballots have been returned in the diverse Federal Way-based district.
I mentioned these disparities to Director Wise, seeking her take on what could be done. Wise noted that the Voter Education Fund has already been enabling many community organizations to mobilize traditionally-disenfranchised voters.
All materials are already printed in English, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. The county also has the ability to provide election services in a whopping 187 languages by phone or in-person.
She expects turnout to rise well past 90% countywide as more ballots come in from ballots across King County, but was uncertain whether we’d see turnout past 90% in South King County.
Additionally, Wise cautioned against voters waiting to head to Vote Centers to vote in-person. Voters looking for a more “traditional” voting experience will find Washington’s elections adapted to vote at home technology.
There will be physically distanced tables set up for voters to fill out their ballots. But each voter, whether through the mail or a Vote Center, receives the same voting packet and returns their ballot through a drop box.
The best course of action remains to vote as soon as possible, directly to your local drop box. Ballots are due statewide by 8 PM on Tuesday.
Despite record early numbers, elections officials are warning voters lines will still be long come Tuesday. Thurston County has even contracted a tow truck for Tuesday, in case a car runs out of gas while in the lineup.
While campaigns will still compete for every vote up until Election Day, there is something they can all agree on: In Washington, more so than ever in 2020, there is no more Election Day. We vote during Election Month.