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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘I’ve never seen voters this anxious’: Postmaster, county auditor say voting by mail is safe, urge voters to return ballots ASAP

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 28, 2020

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, right, holds a mailed ballot given to her by Acting Postmaster John Boone during a press conference in October 2020.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, right, holds a mailed ballot given to her by Acting Postmaster John Boone during a press conference in October 2020. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

With only days until the election, the county auditor and acting postmaster for Spokane urged voters to return their ballots as soon as possible and seek assistance now if they run into issues.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said the election office’s 12 phone lines had been tied up for days with calls and concerns about signature verification, filling out ballots and how to safely return them.

“I’ve never seen voters this anxious,” she said.

During a news conference Wednesday, Dalton and Acting Postmaster Jon Boone reminded voters to sign their return envelops before mailing their ballots. They also stressed that voters who mail ballots on Election Day must check the pickup times on the blue box to make sure it will be postmarked in time for the ballot to count.

Boone suggested voters give their ballot to a post office mail clerk or drop it in an official election drop box if they are concerned.

Dalton said about 199,000 ballots have been returned so far, which is a 55% turnout. Of those, around 55% of ballots have been returned through the drop boxes and 45% have arrived in the mail.

She said the county has now passed the turning point where more and more voters will start returning their ballots through drop boxes instead of the mail, but the U.S. Postal Service’s participation in the election still is important because some voters still are receiving their ballots, or other election mail if they need to verify their signature.

Dalton said the state used to receive the larger share of ballots in the drop box and that trend briefly reversed after the state implemented prepaid postage on ballots in 2018. She said now a larger percentage of voters is using drop boxes again, possibly because of fears about slow mail service.

According to a news release from the Postal Service, for the week of Oct. 10, 85.6% of mail was delivered on time and 97.8% of mail was delivered within two days of the service standard. That week, the Postal Service saw more than 3.1 billion pieces of mail go through its facilities, which is a 23% increase compared to the average volume of mail. According to the news release, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 10, the post office will take extra measures to ensure election mail is delivered on time, including expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups.

Boone emphasized that both drop boxes and blue post office boxes are safe ways to return ballots. He said if voters are concerned they missed the pickup time, which should be marked clearly on blue boxes, they can always go inside a post office and give it directly to a clerk, who will postmark their ballot in front of the voter.

He said all ballots are picked up and delivered to the sorting facility near the airport by 7 p.m. daily. Ballots are placed into a “canceling machine” which postmarks ballots and “cancels” stamps so they can’t be used again. The mail usually is sorted before midnight and goes to the downtown post office on Riverside Avenue in the morning, where a courier picks it up and delivers it to the elections office.

“We’ll ensure every ballot gets there in time,” Boone said.

He said voters in Spokane County could get their ballots returned to the county in about a day if they leave them in a blue box before pickup time. In Washington, votes are counted if they have a postmark by election, so even if they don’t arrive at the elections office for a few days, if they were put in the blue box before pickup time, they will be counted.

In Idaho, however, absentee ballots must arrive on or before Election Day to be counted. Boone recommended people who are mailing absentee ballots get them to the post office by Monday at the latest. If absentee ballots arrive after Election Day in Idaho, they are not counted.

The Spokane mail plant serves all of Eastern Washington and much of North and Central Idaho, and most of the mail goes to Spokane before it gets to individual addresses in Idaho.

Idaho voters can also drop their absentee ballots at their local elections office drop box, but those ballots also will only be counted if they arrive before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

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