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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New COVID-19 restrictions could cause delay in election results, county auditors say

UPDATED: Fri., July 31, 2020

Ballot processing centers across Washington have some new additions for this year’s elections: masks, gloves, plexiglass, six-feet of social distancing and daily temperature checks.

With these new guidelines and social distancing restrictions, county auditors say there could be slight delays in complete elections results as they continue to ensure a safe and thorough ballot count process.

“We don’t cut corners in elections,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said.

In Spokane, those who are processing ballots are spread out with plexiglass barriers between them, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said. Everyone is wearing masks, and temperature checks and hand sanitizer are required.

Dalton said Spokane County was lucky that its elections facility is large enough to have people spread out.

“We’re still ensuring no one is left alone with ballots,” Dalton said.

In Thurston County, ballot processors are split in two groups that work different days. Everyone is separated by plexiglass, and no one shares supplies.

As the primary nears, county auditors and elections employees are working longer hours, trying to catch up before the beginning of the election week.

The busiest days of any election are Monday and Tuesday of election week, Dalton said, as those are the days most people submit their ballots.

Normally, the elections workspace is filled with people so results can be released as quickly as possible, she said. Because not that many people can properly social distance in their space, fewer people will be allowed to work at one time.

“It’s going to take us a little longer to process, a little longer for those nearly complete results to be released,” Dalton said.

Counting ballots is a very manual process, Hall said, and it takes time. It’s not really possible to call elections on election night, she added.

Whitman County Auditor Sandy Jamison said they will likely not be posting results as quickly as they have in the past, adding she can’t predict how long it might take or how many ballots will be left to process after Election Day.

It’s a domino effect, Jamison said. By adhering to new guidelines, it takes longer to process ballots, which means it takes longer to tabulate results and post them.

The experience of registering or voting in person has also changed because of COVID-19.

Jamison said Whitman County purchased new machines that allow a voter to print and fill out a ballot in person, which cuts down the waiting time and allows fewer people to be in the building at once. To keep crowds small, she said she highly encourages people to mail in their ballots instead of dropping it off in-person at the elections office.

Thurston County now offers drive-thru voting services, after moving its voter operations to the South Puget Sound Community College campus.

Voters can stay in their car to order a ballot, fill it out and submit it in a drop box. For voters who need accessibility voting or in-person services, such as registering for the first time, the voting services office has plexiglass, social distancing and temperature checks.

For the primary, Dalton said the county’s voter center in Spokane Valley is closed, so they are mostly operating out of their Spokane elections office. For in-person voter services, the office is practicing social distancing and requiring masks. Some people might have to wait in their vehicles before it is their turn to come inside, she added.

“We’ll get through the primary, but the general election is much busier,” she said.

Dalton added they are looking into different options for the November election to try to serve as many voters as possible while maintaining social distancing.

Jamison said she can’t predict what will happen in November, but as far as processing, she does not think much will change.

“I am running my primary election process how I envision running the general election,” she said.

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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