NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

Responding to supercharged electorate, officials prepare for sprint to Election Day

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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