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Wednesday, July 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New statewide same-day registration and voting system provides relief for address-changers and procrastinators

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 6, 2019

First-time voter Jacob Whitman, 18, drops his ballot in the box at the Spokane County Elections Office on Tuesday.  Whitman took advantage of registering and voting  at the same time. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
First-time voter Jacob Whitman, 18, drops his ballot in the box at the Spokane County Elections Office on Tuesday. Whitman took advantage of registering and voting at the same time. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Generally recognized for its convenience, Washington’s vote-by-mail elections system became even more accommodating for the August 2019 primary.

For the first time since the state Legislature required voting by mail statewide in 2011, people could register and vote in person up until the night of the election. The online and by-mail registration deadline moved from 29 days before the election to just eight.

Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said the expanded registration window and same-day voting brought in an unexpected number of last-minute voters.

Since July 9, 29 days before election day, the county updated or registered 6,039 voters in person. Of those, 321 transactions were in the final eight days of registration and 77 were on election day. The elections office issued more than 816 ballots in the last week and handed out 123 on election day.

The county received 97,000 ballots total Tuesday and was expecting 100,000 ballots to come in, up from about 60,000 each of the last two primary elections. With more than 326,000 voters, that would put turnout close to 30%.

The major themes among people registering and voting on election day at the county office were missing ballots, an inability to print and, of course, procrastination.

“I usually put things off until the end,” said Carl Bach. “I just like to vote.”

Bach said he couldn’t get his printer to produce a clean ballot copy and still needed to update his address from when he had an absentee ballot sent overseas last year.

The switch to same-day registration and voting required the state to create a shared database, called VoteWA, so election officials could ensure voters were only casting one ballot. It also updates voter information almost instantaneously, McLaughlin said.

Though the system had some glitches as recently as July, there were no major hiccups that worried officials in Spokane County, Auditor Vicky Dalton said.

“By the general (election) I think we’ll have the last issues worked out,” she said. “We built a new system in a short amount of time.”

If not for VoteWA, Bach said he wouldn’t have had the chance to vote.

The same goes for Jacob Whitman, who turned 18 in June and almost missed out on his first chance to cast a ballot because he was out of town for a few weeks.

“I realized that it was coming to the end of the time I could vote,” he said. And he said he thought, “It would be kind of silly for me to complain without actually putting pen to paper.”

Whitman said he is one of a few, if not the only one, of his friends who voted.

“It’s a little bit disappointing, because you’re old enough to make your own decisions and you have to be paying some attention to what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to vote in every election.”

McLaughlin said he wasn’t sure that the new same-day registration system would increase voter turnout in the long run because people tend to procrastinate.

“I believe that what’s on the ballot is going to drive what the turnout is,” he said. “If they’re interested then they’ll do it.”

McLaughlin pointed to presidential election years, like in 2016 when vote turnout was 78%, and important local elections, such as last year when almost 73% of registered voters turned out for the race between Lisa Brown and incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the 5th Congressional District.

Fatimah and Terry Frazier said they hope their ballots can bring new, diverse leadership to Spokane.

Fatimah Frazier said the city is 20 years in the past when it comes to inclusion of different cultures and the residents who fight it are like a “monolithic marshmallow.”

Justin Corporon said Tuesday was his first chance to come into the city to vote after he didn’t receive his ballot in the mail. He said new government leadership is vital for healing divisiveness.

“We have so much hate and chaos now in this city and country that I want to have people leading us that will stand up for my children and what God says is right. That’s why I’m voting,” Corporon said.

Gary Chang said the issue of homelessness made him especially eager to vote Tuesday and that he never got his ballot because he forgot to update his address.

Then, “I ran into someone at work who reminded me how important it is to vote,” he said.

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