EVERETT — Voters didn’t have to put a stamp on their ballots in the August primary.
They did have to get them postmarked by Election Day to be counted.
And 1,271 voters in Snohomish County failed to do so. Their ballots were mailed too late to be tallied.
Alas, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Voters mess up this way every election in every corner of the state.
It’s hard for election officials to explain why so many keep missing the deadline. It’s easier than ever to get ballots in, thanks to free postage and drop boxes.
And “ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day” is one of the most established mantras in the state’s electoral lexicon.
“I don’t know. I don’t understand why there are so many arriving too late,”said Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel, who leaves office at the end of the year due to term limits.
If all of these voters were repeat procrastinators, a reminder from an election authority might be a good remedy.
But they’re not.
“We do know who those voters are. It’s not the same person every election. That’s the challenge,” said Garth Fell, the county elections manager.
County election workers have, in the past, reached out to those whose ballots arrived too late to get counted. Then, when the next election rolled around, a different slice of the electorate committed the mistake.
There’s been talk in and around the Legislature of changing the law to require all ballots be turned in by Election Day. That would require that voters get theirs in the mail a couple of days early to ensure an on-time arrival.
Weikel isn’t a fan of this option.
“I struggle with that because I’m not sure that would change voter behavior,” she said. “We’ve been saying it has to be postmarked no later than Election Day and then we would be saying it has to be in by Election Day. It could end up taking a few years to reorient voters.”
Instead, she said, “we could do some additional advertising and other forms of messaging to make people a little more aware and educated.”
Sheri Nelson, deputy secretary of state, said the state is providing a little money this year to get the word out on new laws, like same-day registration, and longer timelines for updating one’s registration information. Public service announcements on radio and television are expected this fall.
One purpose, she said, is “to try to educate and activate the population that procrastinates.”
Late ballots pile up all around the state.
County auditors rejected 12,552 ballots in the Aug. 6 primary because they arrived with a postmark later than Election Day, according to figures compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office. That works out to a touch above 1% of the 1,176,240 ballots tallied.
King County, not surprisingly, turned away the most, 5,625, followed by Snohomish County and Pierce County with 1,047.
In the August 2018 primary, which saw a whole bunch more voters turn out, 17,167 ballots were rejected around the state for arriving too late.
Snohomish County accounted for 2,155. King County led the way with 6,325 while Pierce County had 1,866 and Spokane County 1,105, based on data compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office.
An interesting thing happened in the general election in 2018. Fewer ballots arrived late.
Across the state, the number fell to 9,379. Snohomish County rejected 1,129, according to state records.
Weikel and Fell had an explanation — an interesting election engages voters and their on-time performance improves greatly.
In 2018, the fall ballot was packed with contests for seats in the state Legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives and one in the U.S. Senate. And there were statewide ballot measures dealing with guns, carbon tax, use of force by police and local taxes on food.
An even better example in Snohomish County occurred in the 2016 presidential election.
Turnout in the county reached 79%, three times that of last month’s primary. Yet only 595 ballots got tossed due to a late postmark.