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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State officials watching Whitman County voter registration closely ahead of November midterms

An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

State election officials are keeping an eye on the processing of voter registration forms in Whitman County, where students turned in thousands of new applications this week ahead of the November midterms.

Lori Augino, director of elections for Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said Thursday her office was in contact with the Whitman County auditor’s office to ensure registrations are handled properly and ballots are issued on time.

That came after questions The Spokesman-Review posed Wednesday about what was required in Whitman County to register to vote. The local auditor’s office has received complaints in recent elections about wrongly addressed ballots and information, and in July of last year 45 residents sent a letter to the secretary of state’s office requesting Olympia oversight of the Whitman office.

Eunice Coker, Whitman County’s retiring elected auditor, said in an interview this week she has seen an influx of ballots from students and that she has pulled workers from other sections of the office to process voter registration forms.

“We’ve seen these humongous voting drives,” Coker said. “We’re having fun times here, trying to get through all of them.”

Many of those registrations were delivered by Quinton Berkompas, president of the Washington State University Young Democrats, who expressed concern in an interview earlier this week that students who signed up without a driver’s license number would be told to provide additional documentation before their ballot could be counted.

State law requires a sworn statement verifying residency, not additional documentation that can be difficult for students to produce, including a utility bill or a pay stub, for a person to vote. Augino said her staff is reviewing applications that are entered into a statewide system flagged as provisional to determine if they require additional documentation.

“My team has been working with their team all day,” Augino said. “We did not hear from the students.”

Augino said she had not heard of any similar issues in Whitman County before this election.

Berkompas, who said he dropped off 2,148 new registrations before the filing deadline Monday night, said he appreciates that state officials were reviewing the local office’s work.

“I feel much better knowing that there’s some more oversight,” Berkompas said.

The registration drive in Pullman, site of WSU, started because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s and Wyman’s challenge this year to sign up students to vote, Berkompas said. The contest was open to students at all 40 of the state’s public colleges and universities, and the winner will be announced Nov. 30.

Democrats are hoping that a flood of new, young voters on college campuses will play a role in the midterms, particularly in Pullman, part of Washington’s 5th Congressional District, in which incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Lisa Brown. Republicans have hosted the congresswoman at the university in recent days, and Brown visited the school as part of a tour of college campuses throughout the district this fall.

Brown earned the most votes in Whitman County in the August blanket primary, but McMorris Rodgers has routinely carried the county as a whole in past November contests.

Augino said her office would be meeting with the newly elected auditor after Coker leaves office at the end of the year to ensure compliance in the future. She encouraged voters who are interested in their status to visit, where they can view their information online.

Ballots are scheduled to begin arriving in mailboxes next week for the midterm general election. They are due to be mailed or turned in to county election officials by Nov. 6.

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