By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Next week’s primary election doesn’t have any statewide races for voters to contend with, but it will be the first one where same-day voter registration, automatic registration and pre-paid postage are all in effect in Washington state.
On Tuesday, more than 360 local races across the state will be decided by voters, ranging from city council races and school director races to two legislative seats where recent appointees face primary challenges as they seek election to a full term.
Under a law passed last year — but which took effect June 30 — Washington residents can register to vote in person at a county auditor’s office or elections office up until 8 p.m. the night of an election.
And since July 1, qualified residents who aren’t currently on the voter rolls but apply for or renew an enhanced driver’s license are automatically registered to vote. Under that law, which was passed last year but took effect in time for this year’s primary, those who apply for or renew an enhanced driver’s license or identification card — which require citizenship verification — need to opt out in order to not have their information sent to the secretary of state’s office and county auditors for registration. People who register for the state’s health benefit exchange are also now able to opt in for voter registration.
The state’s more than 4.4 million registered voters started receiving their ballots in the mail weeks ago for the top two primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the November ballot, regardless of party. Washington is an all-mail-ballot state and ballots must be postmarked or deposited in local drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
All of the ballot-return envelopes for this and future elections are guaranteed to include prepaid postage, after the Legislature approved a measure this year.
Another measure that passed last year but took effect on July 1 allows teens to preregister to vote starting at age 16, though they won’t be added to the list of registered voters until the next election at which they’ll be 18.
Off year primaries like this one historically have seen lower turnout in Washington state. Over the past 10 years, turnout has ranged from a low of 24 percent in 2015 to a high of 31 percent in 2009.
The primary will be the first after the state implemented a new voter registration system that ran into problems, including system shutdowns, and had some county auditors dealing with a backlog of voter-registration data and scrambling to get ballots sent to voters in time.
The new voter registration system — which is separate from the tabulation system —allows elections officials to issue and track ballots in real time and enhances security of the system.
At a Senate committee work session last month, several county elections officials expressed frustration about the system going live right before a primary.
Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, who spoke at that hearing, said this week that while they were able to get the ballots out in time but said her staff has been working overtime to address other issues as they occur.
“The problems crop up daily and the system is very slow,” she said. “I’m not doubting this will be a good system. I think it was just really irresponsible to roll this out now and put this pressure on election administrators.”
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Friday that the problems experienced by some of the counties are “part of the process of bringing up a complex IT project.”
“We are optimizing the system and every day the system is getting better,” she said.