Washington’s vote-by-mail system eliminates long lines to vote
Sept. 5, 2021 Updated Fri., Sept. 10, 2021 at 4:31 p.m.
Sherita Cooks drops her ballot in a King County Elections ballot drop box on Election Day for the midterms on Nov. 6, 2018, in Burien, Wash. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times via AP)
League of Women Voters member Beth Pellicciotti remembers how easy she found voting when she moved to Spokane after nearly 40 years in the Midwest.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Pellicciotti said. “You can just about fall out of bed in Washington and vote.”
The voting system Pellicciotti and her husband, Joe, left in northwestern Indiana was a far cry from what greeted them after their 2015 move to Spokane. First, they left a state where you couldn’t vote by mail. And there were no absentee ballots for when it was hard to leave work to vote.
“They were hard to come by,” Pellicciotti said. “You just couldn’t request one. You had to document you couldn’t vote on Election Day, and in 40 years, I never had an absentee ballot.”
Vote-by-mail, which has been the law in Washington state since 2011, is a benefit of living in the Evergreen State, according to three Spokane voters who moved to Washington in the last few years.
“Coming to Washington, of course, we were delighted to have the ballots mailed to us,” said Jean Alliman, who moved from Louisville, Kentucky, two years ago. “It was very, very impressive to register and then have our ballots mailed to us.”
Despite Kentucky not using vote by mail, Alliman said she was fortunate that she was able to avoid long lines at the polls.
“Over the 17 years we were there, probably the longest we had to wait was 30 minutes,” she said. Because she was a professor and her husband was an administrator for a nonprofit organization, they had flexible work schedules. That allowed them to pick and choose times when the lines might be shorter.
“We had friends who had to wait a long time. They were able to go vote only before work and it was very, very stressful. Or after work, it cut into their family time.”
Pelliccotti said she was able to avoid long lines in Indiana as well because of her flexible work schedule. But others in the Hoosier state didn’t. “It wasn’t so much where I voted, but certain parts of northwest Indiana, especially during presidential elections, had two-hour lines.”
Kate Telis, who lived in Waterville, Maine, and Washington, D.C., indicated she voted by absentee ballots mailed from her home in Montana. But she and her husband returned to voting in person when they moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico; then Los Angeles; and most recently Spokane.
“My husband is a surgeon and we moved quite a bit for his training,” Telis said. Even in New Mexico, which had early voting – days before Election Day when voters could mark and turn in their ballots – Telis said her husband found it difficult to vote at times.
“Doing his surgical training he was often working 70 to 90 hours a week, maybe more,” Telis said. “As a resident in medical school, your hours were always unpredictable.
“Now, to be able to fill out a ballot and drop it off at my local library ballot box is pretty amazing,” Telis added.
Alliman, previously from Kentucky, said she does miss an aspect of voting in person.
“There was a camaraderie that developed by gathering with others to vote,” she said. “Waiting in line or going with neighbors to vote or putting on the ‘I voted’ sticker. It was something special that we miss and that is hard to re-create.”
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