Julie Wise and Dow Constantine at Vote Center
King County Elections Director Julie Wise and Executive Dow Constantine are seen at a press event at CenturyLink Field Event Center, October 31 2020 (Photo: Bobby Aiyer/NPI)

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.

Julie Wise and Dow Constantine at Vote Center
King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise, cen­ter, and Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine, right, are seen at a press event at Cen­tu­ryLink Field Event Cen­ter, Octo­ber 31 2020 (Pho­to: Bob­by Aiyer/NPI)

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.

King County Vote Center Voting Desks
Phys­i­cal­ly dis­tanced desks for vot­ers to fill out their bal­lots are seen at the Cen­tu­ryLink Field Event Cen­ter, Octo­ber 31 2020 (Pho­to: Bob­by Aiyer/NPI)

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.

Turnout is at 73% or high­er in the 36th, 43rd, and 46th Leg­isla­tive Dis­tricts; these are all whiter and more afflu­ent North Seat­tle-based electorates.

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.

Voters in line outside of Vote Center
Even as turnout nears 70% over­all, vot­ers are still enthu­si­as­tic; some wait­ing out­side the Vote Cen­ter at Cen­tu­ryLink Field before it opens Sat­ur­day morn­ing, Octo­ber 31 2020 (Pho­to: Bob­by Aiyer/NPI)

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.

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