Election quirks: Drop boxes, tossed ballots, fickle voters

Before turning the page on the November election, here are a few questions to ponder.

OLYMPIA — Another election chapter is in the books.

But before it is catalogued with its predecessors, here are three questions ahead of a busy and impactful year of electoral competitions in 2020.

Why do so many voters keep messing up?

It is literally too easy to vote in Washington, yet 25,406 ballots cast in the Nov. 5 election did not get counted for one avoidable reason or another. There were 2 million ballots counted statewide, so that works out to a little more than 1 out of every 100 getting tossed.

The main infirmity was a late postmark. Across the state, 14,337 ballots arrived too late to be tallied. Atop the leader board for voter tardiness were King County, with 4,790, and Snohomish County, with 1,788. If you’re wondering, yes, the postage on those must still be paid by taxpayers.

The other primary reason for rejections involved signatures or lack thereof. Auditors received 2,928 unsigned ballots. Each of those voters had a chance to fix things by signing a piece of paper and mailing it back to election workers — again without a stamp. They didn’t. On another 7,340 ballots, the signature on the envelope didn’t match the one in election office records.

Will free postage make ballot drop boxes obsolete?

Many counties found ballot collection boxes to be pretty popular among voters when they first went in. That’s how 56.9% of the state’s voters — nearly 65% in Snohomish County — returned their ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

The next year, lawmakers ordered a further proliferation by requiring counties provide one for every 15,000 registered voters and at least one in each city, town and census-designated place with a post office. In the 2017 general election, 54.7% of ballots came back by way of drop boxes across the state.

But in 2018, lawmakers, following action by King County leaders, agreed to have the state pay postage on ballots returned through the mail. This idea of pre-paid postage gained a degree of permanence in the current state budget. Folks are taking advantage and, in some places, they’ve gone away from using a drop box.

In last month’s election, roughly 51% came back via mail. The rate of drop box use was around 47% in King County, 49% in Pierce County and 39% in Spokane County. In Snohomish County, where the total has nearly doubled in three years, it was 52%.

With three statewide elections looming — one of those the presidential primary — this will be an interesting year to see in which box voters choose to put their ballots.

Whither Snohomish County — left, right or the same as always?

Residents of Snohomish County are represented by 21 state lawmakers spanning seven legislative districts. Sixteen are Democrats and, aside from Sen. Steve Hobbs, you can safely describe their politics as progressive. Yet many constituents didn’t share their views on the big stuff this past election.

Countywide, voters warmly embraced Initiative 976, which seeks to cut car tab costs and kick Sound Transit, and they soundly rejected Referendum 88, which sought to retain a new law restoring the state’s use of affirmative action.

In the 38th District, which covers Everett, Marysville and Tulalip, 59.4% backed the car-tab measure and 53.4% voted to repeal the affirmative action law, which their legislators — Everett Reps. Mike Sells and June Robinson and Tulalip Sen. John McCoy — helped pass.

It was more lopsided in the neighboring 44th District. There, 61.2% backed I-976 and 57.9% voted to reject R-88 and the law which Mill Creek Reps. Jared Mead and John Lovick and Hobbs each supported.

One election does not make a trend. Its results cannot be completely ignored, either. Or can they?

We’ll learn when voters write the next chapter.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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