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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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What if your ballot hasn’t arrived? Take your cue from this Liberty Lake woman

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)

Gail Gering was curious last week when her husband’s ballot arrived in the mail but hers didn’t.

The longtime Liberty Lake resident has lived at the same address for more than 30 years, hasn’t changed her name since she was married some 39 years ago, never misses an election and voted in the August primary. She figured it would come the next day, or maybe the day after.

When it didn’t, she called the Spokane County Elections Office.

I don’t see you were ever registered, she recalled the first person telling her.

“I’ve voted all my life,” she replied.

She was switched to another elections worker, who also told her she’s not registered.

“I always vote,” she said.

The elections workers couldn’t explain what happened, but assured Gering that she could register again, either online or by mailing in a form, and she’d get a ballot sent to her. She said she’d go to VoteWA.gov to register, but as a backup asked them to send her a voter registration form.

Soon she was registered, with a ballot in the mail. But she was listed as a new voter, without her voting record. As she told her friends about her disappearing registration, they asked the same question: What happened?

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton had one of the elections office’s computer experts check the records to find the answer. Last month, another Gail Gering with the same spelling but a different birth date moved to Washington. The newcomer registered to vote in another county – Dalton declined to say which – and the clerk who entered the name didn’t check the birth date. He or she assumed it was the same person, and merged the Liberty Lake Gail Gering’s registration to the newcomer’s file.

“That is a crazy story,” said Gering, who noted that there are several ways to spell Gering but hers isn’t the most common.

It’s an unusual error, Dalton said. In Spokane County, they only know of one other time it has happened since the state went to the VoteWA system in the summer of 2019. The computer experts also recovered Gering’s voting record.

“We don’t delete voting records,” Dalton said.

But Gering’s problem highlights something about the 2020 general election different from previous years. Ballots went out a week early, so registered voters who received a ballot for the August primary and haven’t moved since then should have a ballot by now. If not, they should call their county elections office to request a replacement. In Spokane County, the number is (509) 477-2320. If two ballots show up in the mail, you can only vote once.

Spokane County has registered about 15,000 new voters in the last few weeks. They were mailed ballots this week, but give them until Tuesday’s mail delivery to show up before calling to say they haven’t arrived, Dalton said. The office has 12 lines for incoming calls, but questions about ballots and voting are overwhelming the phones.

While the elections office was able to track down Gering’s problem relatively quickly, Dalton said they are seeing another problem much harder to fix. Some voters are putting their ballots in the security envelope and mailing or placing them in a drop box without the outer envelope.

The U.S. Postal Service recognizes them as ballots and delivers them to the elections office even without the address and postage, Dalton said. But the elections office can’t count them without the outer envelope, which has the name, space for the signature and the oath that says the ballot is being cast by an American citizen who is eligible and registered to vote.

Some envelopes have a signature, and if elections officials can decipher it they will try to contact the voter to take steps to correct it. But if not, the ballot can’t be counted.

The Elections Office usually has some ballots placed in drop boxes in just the security envelopes in every election. But for some reason this year they’ve been coming in the mail, too, Dalton said.

Voters who just realized they have sent back their ballot without the outer envelope can call for a replacement.

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