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What if I used the wrong pen? What about my signature? Mr. Election Answer Guy fields your voting questions

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 19, 2020

With just over two weeks to Election Day, some voters have questions about certain aspects of campaigning and voting. Spin Control offers Mr. Election Answer Guy to clear up some confusion.

Shawn Howard emails to ask, since the newspaper wrote about the minor-party candidates on the ballot, will it also write a story about the write-in candidates for president? He’s interested because he has filed as a write-in candidate for president in Washington.

Mr. Election Answer Guy: No. There are currently 25 people who have filed as write-in candidates for president in Washington – some of them with running mates, some not – and because it doesn’t cost anything to do this, there may well be more before Nov. 3.

While seeing those names in print somewhere may excite the handful of followers they may have and allow those candidates to produce a clip proving they ran for president, the fact is that they have no chance of receiving Washington’s electoral votes. They have no chance of even finding out how many write-in votes they got, or if they get any at all.

Washington doesn’t tally the results of write-in votes unless they would make a difference in the election. In other words, there would have to be more write-in votes for president in total than for Donald Trump or Joe Biden – whoever finishes on top in the state’s presidential race – for the counties to even sort and count the write-in votes for president.

An anonymous Washington voter leaves a message wondering why Kanye West isn’t on her Washington ballot even though he is on her friend’s ballot in Idaho.

Mr. Election Answer Guy: The two states have different rules, and West did not complete the steps necessary to qualify for the Washington ballot. You can write in any name you want, and West has as much chance as Shawn Howard of winning the presidential election in Washington.

Eric S. writes to ask what to tell voters who are uncomfortable or even intimidated by having so many choices on the ballot, some of which are for offices, candidates or issues with which they are unfamiliar.

Mr. Election Answer Guy: There are two possible solutions. One is that through mail-in voting, they can mark the races for which they feel well-informed, then come back to the others to do some research at various locations like the state Voters Pamphlet or (here comes the shameless plug) The Spokesman-Review’s Election Center. The other is, you can leave any race or issue blank and no one will know you did. It won’t invalidate the rest of your choices. The total number of voters who don’t mark a particular race show up as “undervotes” in the final tallies, and every item on the ballot, even the presidential race, will have a few.

Patrick B. writes to ask “Which signature should I use to sign my envelope? Full name as it appears on the envelope or just initials and last name?”

Mr. Election Answer Guy: The simple answer would be the signature you used when registering as a voter, but for some people that was years or even decades ago and signatures change over time. Plus, no one signs their name the same way each time. Elections staff check the signature on the envelope against the one on file, but they look for certain reference points, not an exact match. If your signature has changed with age or an injury and doesn’t match the one on file, the envelope will be set aside and the elections office will contact you to ask you fill out a “signature update form.” That’s why it’s a good idea to put a daytime phone number in the space provided.

One other thing: Many people now have two signatures, the one they use for signing checks and documents and a “quickie” signature of a line with maybe a few squiggles for signing those electronic card readers at a checkout counter. Use the former.

Elizabeth M. called to say she used a felt tip pen rather than a standard ink pen to fill in the ovals on her ballot, and some ink bled through to the other side, which also has races and issues on it. What should she do?

Mr. Election Answer Guy: It shouldn’t be a problem, because the ballot is designed so the ovals on one side don’t line up with the ovals on the other side. You can just put it in the two envelopes, sign the outer envelope and mail it or put it in a drop box.

If, however, you’ve done something to really mess up your ballot, like spilling coffee on it, you can get a replacement. You can have one sent to you by calling the County Elections Office (in Spokane that’s (509) 477-2320) or by going online to Or you can get one in person by going to a voter service center. There are two in Spokane County, one at the downtown elections office at 1033 W. Gardner, and one in the Valley at CenterPlace Event Center, 2624 N. Discovery Place.

And don’t worry about someone judging you for needing a replacement ballot – elections officials have heard it all before.

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