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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Can’t get a Washington driver license because of COVID closures? You can still register to vote

UPDATED: Fri., July 24, 2020

Braden Albertini, left, and Isaac Hansel, second from left, fill out voter registration forms under the watchful eye of Bev Austin, right, of the League of Women Voters, at a table in the entryway of Lewis and Clark High School Thursday, Jan. 16, 2019.   (JESSE TINSLEY)
Braden Albertini, left, and Isaac Hansel, second from left, fill out voter registration forms under the watchful eye of Bev Austin, right, of the League of Women Voters, at a table in the entryway of Lewis and Clark High School Thursday, Jan. 16, 2019.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

When Washington State Department of Licensing bureaus closed in late March due to COVID-19, it left many new residents waiting to get state driver licenses and identification cards.

Although bureaus are open again, many residents are still struggling to get appointments to receive a new ID, which is required to register to vote online.

Despite this, election officials are reminding new residents without a state ID that they have other options to register to vote in the Aug. 4 primary, such as filling out an in-person or mail-in registration form.

“There’s still quite a few people who don’t have licenses, but they still have the opportunity to register to vote before the August election,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.

After licensing offices across the state closed in late March to in-person services, the department moved many services, such as renewing licenses or vehicle tabs, online. The deadline to get a REAL ID was also pushed back to Oct. 1, 2021.

Those who needed a new license had to wait until offices opened again, spokesperson Christine Anthony said.

The department opened many offices starting June 22 by appointment only, Anthony said. As of Monday, there were 35 licensing offices open, including in Spokane and Spokane Valley.

“We are trying to take precautions to protect our employees and customers coming in,” she said.

Anthony said there are new appointments offered every day, but they fill up quickly.

The offices are also closed Fridays throughout July and one Friday a month until November due to mandatory state employee furloughs.

Anthony said the Department of Licensing had an average of 1,889 appointments each day from July 1 to Wednesday.

Because more offices are open, that number is not representative of the number of appointments they will have next month, she said.

When new residents receive their state ID, they are asked if they want to automatically be registered to vote.

Online registration and automatic registration through the Department of Licensing are the two largest drivers of voter registration, according to data from the Secretary of State. In 2019, registration transactions online and through Department of Licensing bureaus made up nearly 75% of the total registration transactions. Department of Licensing transactions made up 506,615 of the 889,226 registrations, while online transactions made up 154,711 transactions.

These transactions also include new registrations as well as registration updates, such as a change of address.

About 40% of registration applications in Washington are new voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The other 60% of applications are from people who did not realize they were already registered or needed to change an address.

If new residents are not able to get appointments to get a license before the August or November elections, however, Dalton said they still have the opportunity to vote.

Residents who do not have a Washington ID can register in person without an ID through Election Day on Aug. 4. Monday is the last day to register online.

The mail-in and in-person form uses the last four digits of a resident’s Social Security number instead of an ID number.

Dalton said she does not think the issues surrounding IDs will have a large effect on voter turnout, especially because Washington is a same-day registration state.

She urged residents to get their registrations in early, however, as same-day registration and new COVID-19 social distance restrictions may cause delays in election results.

“It is unusual times from a processing perspective,” Dalton said. “We are stretched thin.”

Dalton said she got many phone calls from new residents asking how they can register without an ID. While she is happy many people know about the online registration system, she said it’s still important that people know they have other options.

“It doesn’t matter if it affects five people or 500 people or 5,000 people,” Dalton said. “It affects someone.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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