Consider the vast majority of primary ballots, waiting out there, eagerly hoping for their named voter to open them and start filling in those little ovals with a dark pen.
We know it’s a majority based on a note from the state elections office, which on Friday said only 17.7 percent of primary ballots had returned. We’d like to believe a huge surge over the weekend would have pushed that up to 50 percent, but we’d also like to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and civility on social media.
To help voters sitting on the fence over whether to mark their ballot, we offer answers to what some would call FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions, but what those lonely ballots might say are just FOEs – Frequently Offered Excuses.
I’m not a registered Democrat or Republican, so why should I vote?
No voter in Washington registers as a Democrat or Republican – or Libertarian or Socialist for that matter. The primary isn’t for the parties, it’s for voters to reduce the choices down to two for the general.
What if I like to split my ticket?
No problem. All of the candidates for races in the districts where you live are on the ballot. Feel free to pick and choose, but only one candidate per race.
What if I don’t like people knowing how I voted?
No one knows how you voted, only whether you voted. At the elections office, you are recorded as voting when they check the signature on the outer envelope. But that’s before it is separated from the inner security envelope. The inner envelope is opened later and the ballot, which has no identifying code, taken out and scanned by a machine. In the presidential primary – which this isn’t – the parties can find out if you voted Democratic or Republican, but not which Democrat or Republican.
What if I’ve never heard of some of these people?
To be honest, nobody knows who all these candidates are. The U.S. Senate race has 29 candidates, some who have done little campaigning and will pick up a few hundred votes from people who like their name or want to vote against someone else. But most candidates in most races provide information for the state Voters Pamphlet, which was mailed out last month.
What if I threw out my Voters Pamphlet by mistake?
There’s still plenty of information on the internet. The Spokesman-Review’s Election Center on the newspaper’s website has links to all the campaign coverage for the Washington primary from the last several months. The Voters Pamphlet also exists online and can be found at the secretary of state’s website, www.sos.wa.gov, or the Spokane County elections website, www.spokanecounty.org/177/elections. TVW also has a video voters’ guide for statewide offices at www.tvw.org. Not everyone took advantage of the offer of five minutes of free video, but one might ask whether those who didn’t are worth a vote.
Don’t ballots have to arrive at the elections office by Tuesday, which means it’s too late for me to mail mine in?
No, and no. This ain’t Oregon. Washington only requires mailed ballots to be postmarked by Tuesday evening, so if you wait until Election Day you probably should take it to the post office for a postmark rather than clipping it to your mailbox, or put it in a drop box before 8 p.m. Properly postmarked ballots that come in the mail for the next two weeks will still be counted.
What if I don’t have a stamp?
Don’t need one. The return envelope is postage paid, or you could put it in a drop box.
If I use the prepaid envelope, how will they know if I mailed it on time?
It will be postmarked.
Aren’t those prepaid envelopes expensive for taxpayers?
In some smaller counties they are, because the cost is based on the volume of mail. That’s why a few counties just put 50-cent stamps on their return envelopes. In Spokane County, each one costs the county 55 cents. So you could save Spokane taxpayers that 55 cents by putting your own stamp on your envelope, or save money all around by putting your marked ballot in the signed, sealed envelope and placing it in a drop box, which in Spokane County can be found at your nearest public library.
What if I lost my ballot or spilled coffee on it while I was studying the names?
What if I really don’t want to bother with voting and just want to complain about whoever gets elected?
That’s your right under the First Amendment. But you should probably be upfront about it and not come up with a bunch of excuses.
Spokane County returns are up
But we have an update, and a clarification, on last week’s column questioning whether a blue wave is in the offing in Spokane County by comparing return statistics with 2014, the last midterm primary. Because of a misalignment of the spreadsheet and a late update on returns, Spin Control overstated the difference between the two elections. At that point, it was roughly the same in terms of percentages, 12.12 percent in 2014 compared to 12.13 percent this year, and slightly ahead when comparing the number of ballots.
In the last week, however, turnout has surged in Spokane County, with about 14,000 more ballots coming into the elections office compared to the week before the 2014 primary election. Or a nearly 26.5 percent turnout compared to 21.5 percent four years ago at this point.
The day before, day of and day after Election Day usually have the most for returns. If the trend continues, turnout could top 40 percent, which would be good for a primary. But that would still mean half the people who could have voted, didn’t.