17,000 ballots rejected in county

Nearly one in five ballots cast so far in the presidential primary in Snohomish County won’t be opened or counted because the voter failed to identify whether they’re a Republican or Democrat, election officials said Wednesday.

About 17,000 of the 92,516 ballots received are being set aside because voters forgot or declined to check the box next to a party oath on the ballot envelope.

Election officials expected some voters to skip the oath, in part because it becomes public information that is shared with the parties and anyone who asks the county, Snohomish County elections manager Garth Fell said.

Even so, the numbers are a higher than expected, he said.

“There’s a group of voters out there who are frustrated with this process,” Fell said. “Certainly, some statements are being made in the way people are voting. Some simply missed that part of the instructions.”

It’s a perennial problem in Washington. Voters with independent streaks are loathe to identify their political stripes after decades of being able to vote whichever party they choose in what was called a blanket primary.

The ballots sent out countywide all include the presidential primary. About one third of the ballots also include school or other local measures. People who vote on the local issues aren’t required to declare party affiliation for those ballot issues.

In all, about 25,000 voters cast ballots without checking the party box.

Some of those ballots, about 8,500, will be processed because they came from areas where local issues were at stake.

Election day is Tuesday, and to be counted, ballots must be returned or postmarked no later than that day. Drop-off locations open today at dozens of stores, coffee shops and libraries.

State Republicans plan to use the primary election results to allocate about half their presidential delegates. The other half will be based on caucus results, which favor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

There’s no purpose in Snohomish County opening the ballots if a party preference wasn’t chosen and there are no other issues on the ballot, Snohomish County GOP chairwoman Geri Modrell said.

“I’m very disappointed that people don’t get it,” she said. “They don’t understand that the purpose of the primary is for the Democrats to identify their candidates and Republicans to identify theirs.”

The results won’t be skewed by rejecting thousands of ballots, Modrell said.

“I don’t think it’s a concern,” she said. “The active Republicans, the involved Republicans, are paying attention to the process.”

Still, voters are calling GOP headquarters “horror-struck” that they forgot to check the party preference box, Modrell said.

The results of primary election doesn’t factor in the Democratic choice for president, the state party says. The caucus results, which determined how delegates would be allocated, on Saturday favored Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., 2-to-1 over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

Democratic party officials still hope people vote in the primary to corroborate caucus results.

“It’s sad that these people won’t have their votes counted, but they’re not following the process and they didn’t declare a party,” Snohomish County Democratic party chairman Mark Hintz said.

Nobody can know the intention of the voters who didn’t sign the party oath. If they were making mischief with the opposing party, their vote definitely shouldn’t count, he said.

“If people aren’t going to take the party oath, then how do we know who’s voting?” he said. “I find it despicable whenever we throw out a vote, but I also want them to be accurate and true votes.”

If the state had party registration rules, this would never happen, he said.

The county sent out informational mailings to emphasize the special partisan rules for this election, Fell said. Once the county receives the ballot, it’s too late for a voter to come in to check the party box.

Many voters are calling in confused about many different aspects of the presidential primary election, Fell said. Some voters thought Super Tuesday was election day in Washington. Some are still calling to ask when caucuses will be held.

“For those that want to participate in this election, there’s still time to do that,” Fell said. “Parties will use the information how they want. It’s a good barometer for how the public feels about the candidates.”

Where can I take my ballot?

Ballots must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, which is election day, or they can be dropped off at several locations.

County auditor’s office

3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett

Electronic voting machines are available and ballots can be dropped off.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday; and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday

Libraries

Electronic voting machines are available and ballots can be dropped off.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; Closed Sunday and Monday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday

n Edmonds Library, 650 Main St.

n Lynnwood Library, 19200 44th Ave. W.

n Marysville Library, 6120 Grove St.

n Mill Creek Library, 15429 Bothell-Everett Highway

n Monroe Library, 1070 Village Way

n Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. W.

n Mukilteo Library, 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.

n Snohomish Library, 311 Maple Ave.

n Stanwood Library, 9701 271st St. NW

Community collection centers

Ballots can be dropped off at the following locations.

Hours: 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday; 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday; and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday

n Arlington

Food Pavilion, 146 Haller St. E

Starbucks, 3617 172nd Ave. NE

n Bothell

QFC, 22833 Bothell-Everett Highway

n Edmonds

QFC, 22828 100th Ave. W.

n Everett

QFC, 4919 Evergreen Way

QFC, 2615 Broadway Ave.

n Gold Bar

Family Grocer, 1111 Croft Ave.

n Granite Falls

Red Apple, 115 N. Granite Ave

n Lake Stevens

Joe’s, 519 Highway 9

n Lynnwood

QFC, 17525 Hwy 99

QFC, 7500 196th St SW

n Marysville

Staples, 105 Fourth St.

Starbucks, 3701 88th St. NE

n Mill Creek

QFC, 926 164th St. SE

n Monroe

Galaxy Theaters, 1 Galaxy Way

n Mountlake Terrace

QFC, 22803 44th Ave. W

n Mukilteo

QFC, 11700 Mukilteo Speedway

n Snohomish

Starbucks, 1101 Ave. D

n Stanwood

QFC, 27008 92nd Ave. NW

n Sultan

Red Apple, 807 W. Stevens

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