WA State Voting Fallacies

There’s some confusion and misinformation going around about some of the corner cases of voting in Washington state. Here are some answers with references.

It’s too late to mail in your ballot

Wrong! Someone in my office yesterday was telling a coworker that it’s too late to mail in the ballot. This is incorrect, and I told them as much. As long as your ballot is postmarked on or before Tuesday, November the 8th your ballot will be counted. You can also drop it in any official ballot drop-off location by 8pm on Tuesday the 8th. Here’s the full list of those for King County. Outdoor ballot drop boxes are open 24hrs, every day, until 8pm on Tuesday the 8th.

You don’t need a stamp

This is actually true! If you don’t have a stamp (or two, for some WA counties) you can drop it in any USPS mailbox and it will be delivered with the county picking up the tab. Still, put a stamp on it if you can.

Signing your ballot is optional

Nope. Part of the ballot validation process is matching your name with the signature on file with your voter registration. If they differ, or if no signature is there, a county elections official will contact you to make sure that it came from you. After your ballot is validated, your vote will get counted, even if that happens after the polls close as long as it was postmarked by election day.

You can vote online

This is very subtly incorrect, let me break it down.

If you have not received your ballot, either because you moved or it got lost, you can go online to MyVote and fill in your ballot (see the MyBallot link on the right, which points you to https://kingcounty.everyonecounts.com for King County residents) which you must then print out and mail in (or drop off) for it to count. You can also print your ballot out blank, or partially filled in, and fill in the rest by hand as usual.

The instructions also tell you to email the ballot to a county elections office email address, this does not get your vote counted. Emailing the ballot sets the “postmark”, such that when the elections office does get your ballot in the mail, it will be counted even if it’s after election day.

To repeat: you must mail in or drop off your ballot for it to be counted.

You can’t vote in person

This isn’t strictly true. Washington is a vote-by-mail state; however, King County operates accessible voting centers for voters who need additional assistance, such as audio ballots, large-print displays, or other assistive devices. Note that audio ballots take 45 min to one hour to go through, so please allow enough time if you’ll be using that format.

Anyone may come in and vote (or bring in your ballot and get help assembling it) at an accessible voting center, regardless of dis/ability.

I’ll know when my vote has been counted

Not exactly. You can get the status of your ballot at MyVote. For King County you’re redirected to their Ballot tracker. That tells you the status of your ballot that you filled out and mailed in or put in a ballot drop-box. After the county elections office has received your ballot, it goes through a few steps:

  1. The voter record is validated.
    This ensures that you haven’t already voted (see above for how this could happen) and that nothing is preventing you from voting.
  2. The signature is validated.
    People, yes people, compare the signature on your ballot to the one on your voter registration card. If they don’t match, the elections department will contact you to validate your identity. They may even be able to do this on the phone since they have your voter registration available to them.
  3. The ballot is disassociated from your identity.
    We have secret ballots in this country which means that your vote is anonymous. After your signature has been validated, your ballot is totally disassociated from your identity, which means this is the last time the elections office has to connect you to any ballot.
  4. The votes on the ballot are counted.

Any ballot tracker website can only report up to step 3.

The King County ballot tracker reports this somewhat-confusing wording at that phase:

We have received your ballot, your signature has been verified, and your ballot will be counted.
Thank you for voting.

That status message will never change to “your vote has been counted” because they can’t tell you when your ballot has gone through the counting machine because it is no longer tied to you.

Don’t panic – your ballot will be counted!

More questions?

If you have additional questions, find your local elections office (such as the one for King County) and ask them! County elections offices are pretty busy, but they’re there to help you exercise your right to vote.

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

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