OLYMPIA – Washington could be headed for record turnout in the Nov. 3 election with as many as nine of 10 registered voters casting ballots.
While elections officials are leery of predicting the actual turnout, the flood of ballots coming in to drop boxes and by mail are pointing in that direction.
“Turnout is amazing,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.
In Spokane County, two of every five voters had returned their ballot by Wednesday. Statewide, one in four ballots had come in.
The difference comes partly from Spokane and some other counties mailing ballots to voters a week early, while heavily populated King and Snohomish counties mailed out ballots last week on the regular schedule.
Because of the differences in when ballots were mailed, “we can’t compare it to previous elections,” Dalton said. But between increases to the voter rolls and heavy interest in the elections, she and other elections officials are preparing for a record number of ballots.
“Our drop boxes are getting extremely heavy usage,” Dalton said.
Across the state, some 62% of ballots have been returned through drop boxes and 38% have come back by mail, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.
In Clallam County last weekend, some drop boxes got so full that no more ballots could fit in. People put signs directing voters to the nearest box, Wyman said.
Spokane County will be collecting ballots at drop boxes this weekend, which it normally would not need to do at that point in the election cycle, Dalton said.
On Tuesday, two weeks from Election Day, elections offices around the state received a total of 441,413 ballots. That’s more ballots in a single day than any day in the 2016 presidential election other than the actual Election Day.
“That’s a wow,” Wyman said.
As the state’s head elections official, Wyman said she has stopped making predictions of a turnout percentage, but “absolutely” believes it will be a record, which would mean more than 84.6%, the previous mark, set in 2008.
County elections officials are being told they should prepare for 90%, she added.
One variable, which could boost turnout as much as 2% in the final days of the election, is the state’s recent law that allows eligible voters to register or change their address up to 8 p.m. on Election Day by going to the elections office or a voter service center in person.
An eligible voter in line to register by 8 p.m. will be allowed to register and cast a ballot even if they don’t make it to the counter to fill out the form until after that deadline. But they won’t be allowed to get in line after 8 p.m.
People lined up at a drop box will also be able to deposit a ballot if they arrive there by 8 p.m. Get there at 8:01 p.m., however, they won’t be able to drop it off.
It’s similar to the old law Washington had for poll site voting, Wyman said, that allowed people to cast a ballot after 8 p.m. as long as they were in line by the deadline.