OLYMPIA — Roughly 650 people in Snohomish County are going to find a ballot in their mailbox in the next couple of days.
And they may be surprised when they open it and see it’s for Tuesday’s election.
They are among nearly 7,000 Washington residents who were supposed to receive ballots for this election last month but didn’t because their registration information had fallen through a crack in the state’s “motor-voter” program.
Each had gone into an office of the state Department of Licensing at some point in the past few years to obtain or renew their driver’s license after a name change, an action that should have automatically triggered an update of their voter registration.
But as a result of a coding error in the program’s software, their information didn’t get sent to the Secretary of State’s office, nor put onto the voter rolls of counties. Pat Kohler, director of licensing, said a fix was put in place at the end of January.
“It was a shock and a surprise that there would be such a glitch” in a program that’s been in use for so long, Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said Thursday.
Since 2011, information for 25,000 people did not get transmitted. Of those, 6,969 were found to have never registered while the others were shown as registered under their old name or may have registered online or directly through a county auditor. Women accounted for 5,791 of the total.
Snohomish County mailed ballots to 579 voters Wednesday and will send to 70 more voters Friday, said Garth Fell, elections and recording manager. Elections staff are still researching information on 32 people and could be sending them ballots as well, he said.
Those mailed Wednesday went to 123 voters in the Everett School District, 112 in the Edmonds School District, 93 in Mukilteo, 60 in Marysville and 45 in Lake Stevens, Fell said. Ballots also went to voters in Snohomish, Arlington, Monroe, Granite Falls, Darrington, Sultan, Index and the Stanwood-Camano Island School District, he said.
The licensing department error comes as state lawmakers are moving to allow individuals to register on Election Day and then vote. A bill for same-day registration passed the Senate in January and may move through a House committee next week. Gov. Jay Inslee has voiced support for the change.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman has repeatedly asked lawmakers to push back the start-up date to allow deployment of a new statewide voter database. This system will enable auditors to check new registrants and make sure they haven’t registered and voted elsewhere the same day.
There is money to pay for it and Wyman said her office is in the process of finding a company to design, build and install it. If the database is not operating, auditors will need to issue provisional ballots to each new voter. Then, like in the 1990s, she said those would not be counted unless and until it can be proven the person is properly registered.
“In our world, it is critical to have the time to troubleshoot,” she said. “My concern is if something goes wrong there isn’t time.”
Weikel said the recent error in the motor-voter program points out the need to “move slowly and carefully” in making this significant change.
“I do agree with the secretary of state that we cannot do same-day registration safely, securely and with a level of confidence that I would expect until the new statewide database is in place and thoroughly tested,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.