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Washington and Idaho are preparing for record voter turnout. Here’s where the numbers stand so far

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 16, 2020

Voters line up to deposit their ballots into a drop box at the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Voters line up to deposit their ballots into a drop box at the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As national early and absentee voting numbers begin breaking records, Washington and Idaho elections officials are preparing for record turnouts of their own.

With record primary turnout in August, Washington elections officials have been preparing for 90% turnout in November. Washington counties mailed ballots within the past week, but if early returns, registration and North Idaho’s absentee requests are any indication, the entire country will experience turnout like never before.

In the 2016 general election, turnout in Washington was just under 79%. Turnout in Idaho was nearly 76%.

As of Friday, at least 22.5 million people have voted early or absentee in the 2020 general election, according to the United States Elections Project, which tracks early voting. That number is already a record compared to 2016 numbers, according to the organization.

As of Friday, Spokane County had just under 75,000 ballots returned, about 21% of the ballots that were mailed, County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.

At this point four years ago, none had yet been received since ballots were mailed a week earlier this year. To have that many returned at this point is a good sign, Dalton said.

“That’s just amazing,” she said.

Statewide numbers will become available next week.

Idaho is experiencing a record number of absentee ballot applications. By Friday, Kootenai County had mailed close to 44,000 absentee ballots, chief deputy clerk Jennifer Locke said. The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 23. Early in-person voting in Kootenai County will start next week and run until Oct. 30.

At a National Association for Secretaries of State elections briefing earlier this week, secretaries shared their state’s numbers.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said they reached a record 8 million registered voters, and more than 2 million people already have requested absentee ballots. In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said nearly 3 million voters requested to vote by mail, with 1 million already returning their ballots. In New Jersey, Secretary of State Tahesha Way said more than 5 million people have requested absentee ballots, and almost 1 million already have returned their ballots.

“We are ready,” Benson said. “We are meeting our challenges for November.”

Dalton said she is hoping mailing ballots a week early will allow voters to get their ballots in earlier than Election Day to avoid so many being returned during the week of the election and slowing results.

In the primary, about 60% of Washington ballots were returned on or after Election Day, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in the NASS meeting this week. The state wasn’t able to have meaningful results until the following Monday, she said.

“You may have slower results,” she warned other states. “That’s normal. That’s part of the process of making sure we are accurately counting our ballots.”

In Washington and North Idaho, registration is also up from 2016. Here are the numbers so far:

Washington voter registration

2016: 4.3 million active voter registrations

2020: 4.7 million active voter registrations, so far

Washington voter registration transactions (new registration or change in address)

2016: 1,382,437 total registration changes; 182,190 in September

2020: 965,649 total registration changes; 264,949 in September

Spokane County voter registration

2016: more than 306,000 registered voters

2020: more than 356,000 registered voters

Kootenai County voter registration

2016: 77,885 registered voters

2020: 103,000 registered voters, as of Thursday

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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