Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 37° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Ballots in Spokane and many other counties in Washington will be mailed one week early

Oct. 2, 2020 Updated Fri., Oct. 2, 2020 at 9:08 p.m.

Mike McLaughlin, elections manager and Kit Anderson, elections supervisor, right, of the Spokane County Elections Office, roll a cart weighting 840 pounds with ballots into a Ryder truck headed to the post office on Oct. 18, 2018.  (DAN PELLE)
Mike McLaughlin, elections manager and Kit Anderson, elections supervisor, right, of the Spokane County Elections Office, roll a cart weighting 840 pounds with ballots into a Ryder truck headed to the post office on Oct. 18, 2018. (DAN PELLE)

Spokane County will mail ballots one week earlier than usual ahead of the Nov. 3 general election amid national concerns that changes at the U.S. Postal Service would cause delays in election mail.

The goal is to give people more time to turn in their ballots or request a replacement ballot.

Many counties across the state will mail their ballots Oct. 8 and 9 – one week earlier than the required 18-day voting period.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said the push to send ballots sooner came after a meeting with other auditors and Secretary of State Kim Wyman. During the meeting auditors expressed concerns about potential post office delays. Dalton said county auditors wanted to ensure there would be plenty of time for voters to turn in their ballots if they chose to send theirs through the mail instead of using a drop box.

Since that meeting, a federal judge in Yakima ordered a nationwide injunction to halt changes by the USPS that could slow mail ahead of the election.

Wyman also issued an emergency ruling that would require county elections officials to use first-class postage for ballots mailed within 15 days of the election. Those ballots are often late registrations, address changes or replacement ballots.

Dalton said the earlier mail-out still will be useful, especially for voters who might need to order a replacement ballot.

According to state law, ballots must be mailed at least 18 days before each primary or election, but after the primary’s high voter turnout and post office delays, Wyman began urging counties to mail ballots as early as possible.

In an August interview with The Spokesman-Review, Wyman said she was working with all counties to determine the earliest they could mail out ballots.

“If they can make it before 18 days, the better,” Wyman said at the time.

Getting ballots out earlier than normal can be difficult given the number of steps required before a ballot is mailed.

After the primary, ballots and envelopes need to be designed and printed. Addresses and barcodes are then added to the envelopes. Ballots and envelopes then need to be put together, sorted by address and distributed to the mail service.

Dalton said her office had to find places in each step to save time.

“This was quite the effort,” Dalton said. “I’m still not sure how we managed to pull that off.”

In Eastern Washington, Pend Oreille, Adams, Stevens and Whitman counties also will mail their ballots next week. Ferry County mailed theirs Oct. 2.

After the primary, Whitman County Auditor Sandy Jamison said her county experienced higher turnout but mostly on an election day or after.

In Washington, returned ballots that are mailed but received after election day, are counted if they are postmarked by election day.

Jamison said she has faith in the post office but encouraged voters to turn their ballots in early, especially given COVID-19 guidelines that slow processing.

“Please vote early,” she said. “Don’t let the envelope sit on your counter.”

With the new mail-out, Dalton hopes voters don’t procrastinate in returning ballots. With estimated record turnout and new COVID-19 procedures, Dalton warns of late results.

In the primary, most ballots arrived back to the Election’s Office on or after Election Day, Dalton said.

If that same delay in ballots happens during the November election, results might not be known until Friday of election week, and maybe even later, Dalton said.

“We can’t count a valid ballot that we haven’t received on Tuesday night,” Dalton said. “If we don’t have it, we can’t count it on Tuesday.”

She urged voters to look out for their ballots next week and vote early. Dalton said voters who don’t receive a ballot by the week of Oct. 19 should let their county elections office know, so another ballot can be mailed.

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.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.