Spokane County voters have nearly two weeks to ponder their decision on Referendum 48, the proposal to build a football stadium in Seattle.
Some voters may need that long to figure out when to fold, when not to fold and what to do about “CHAD” for their vote-by-mail ballots.
It may be tempting to blame the confusing instructions on the person who sent you the ballot. But Spokane County Elections Superintendent Tom Wilbur said the wording is set in the Washington Administrative Code, appropriately known as “the WACs.”
These are the standard instructions for absentee ballots, said Wilbur.
Although absentee balloting has been common for years, most Spokane County voters are accustomed to voting the old-fashioned way: at polling places, where cheerful poll workers hand out ballots, direct voters to booths, take the finished ballots after they have been punched and remain nearby to answer any questions.
But in this election, Spokane County voters are on their own. Note Instruction No. 5 on Page 1: “Your ballot must be marked in secret.”
In secret, there is no one available to explain the instructions, which seem to have been written by the same wordsmiths who write computer software manuals or the directions for toy assembly.
There’s no one to ask, “Who is this ‘CHAD’ who must be detached from the back of my ballot, and how did he get there in the first place?”
In the official instructions, “CHAD” seems to be a person of substance. He’s always mentioned in capital letters set off by quotation marks.
He is, in fact, a substance, not a person. Punching a hole in the computer card dislodges a small rectangle. If the rectangle does not come completely off, it is called “CHAD,” which seems to be an acronym for something like “cardboard hunk adverse to detachment.”
If that happens, don’t panic. Just flick “CHAD” off with an available finger.
Wilbur’s office has received a steady stream of calls from voters who have questions or complaints about the first-ever countywide vote by mail.
Some complain that requiring a stamp is illegal because that means the election isn’t free. Sorry, the post office doesn’t deliver mail without a stamp.
Voters who want to save a few dimes can drop off their ballots on Election Day at four locations around the county.
One caller didn’t want to sign the envelope because that would violate the secrecy of the ballot.
The law requires election workers to verify signatures on every envelope with the computerized voter lists. Wilbur assures voters his staff really is much too busy to keep track of how each one of the tens of thousands of voters decided to punch his or her ballot.
Some homes are receiving ballots addressed to former residents. That’s because they’re still on the county’s voter rolls at that address, Wilbur said.
Do write “No longer lives at this address” on the envelope and drop it back in the mail.
Do not attempt to cast extra ballots to help or hurt the stadium proposal. Remember that the signatures on each envelope will be checked, and as the instructions note, the penalty for casting someone else’s ballot is up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MAIL-IN BALLOTING MADE EASY Simplified instructions for casting a ballot by mail: Find something to punch a small hole. For previous elections, the county sent hole-punchers, but this year, it is asking voters to fashion one themselves from any handy pencil, ballpoint or paper clip. Punch the card to register your vote: No. 10 for “yes,” No. 12 for “no.” Punch the wrong hole? Tear the ballot? Take it to the county courthouse and exchange it for another one. Don’t fold the ballot, but do fold the flap over the ballot so it fits into the gold envelope. Seal the ballot in the gold envelope, then seal the gold envelope in the green envelope. Sign the green envelope in the appropriate spot, put a 32-cent stamp on it and drop it in the mail. Or take it to one of the places listed on Page 1 of the instructions.