Nothing beats voting in Washington

Voting in Washington state is the gold standard for how voting should be done. It’s safe, secure, insanely convenient, and encourages informed voting.

voting-ballotsWashington state is a vote-by-mail state so everyone votes by mail in every election. A few weeks before the election you receive a ballot in the mail addressed to you by name. You open it, fill in some bubbles, put it into the provided return envelope, sign the envelope, and drop it in a US Postal Service mailbox — no stamp required. Unlike some states, which must receive your ballot by election day, in Washington your ballot must be postmarked by election day.

Or you can put it in one of dozens of official ballot drop boxes across the state. King County alone has over 70 drop boxes and 94% of King County’s 2 million people live within 3 miles of a drop box. Ballot drop boxes are open from when ballots are mailed until 8p on election day.

Once the elections office receives your ballot, your signature on the envelope is matched with your voter registration. If it doesn’t match, the elections department will reach out to you and confirm it’s from you. If it does match, your voting record is updated to indicate that you voted — allowing you to confirm online that they received your ballot. The envelope is then separated from your ballot. This way who you voted for is still confidential and not tied to you. The ballot is then tabulated and retained as a paper trail if ballots need to be recounted.

It’s literally that simple. You get something in the mail, you fill it out, and you send it in. You can vote from the comfort over your own home with a beverage of your choice in hand.

You don’t have to:

  • take off work
  • find your polling place
  • stand in line
  • remember which propositions you were against
  • remember which candidates with similar names you wanted to support
  • navigate confusing electronic voting interfaces
  • worry the voting machine marked your ballot incorrectly
  • worry about someone hacking the electronic voting machine
  • request an absentee ballot
  • be around people in a pandemic

But it gets better. Yes, really.

voting-pamphletsIn Washington state about a month before the election every household receives two voter’s pamphlets. One from the state and one from the county. The state pamphlet contains information about state-wide elections, including bios on every candidate running for office (submitted by the candidates) and information about every measure on the ballot. The county pamphlet contains similar information for the county and city measures, again with bios on every candidate running for office and information about every measure on the ballot.

Picture it: it’s a lazy Sunday morning and you sit down at the kitchen table with a muffin, a cup of coffee, your ballot, a pen, and the voter’s pamphlets. You read over the ballot measures and candidates, mock Goodspaceguy, do some googling on candidates, laugh along with The Stranger’s voting guide, maybe even look up some endorsements. Fill in a few bubbles on your ballot, put it in an envelope, seal it, sign the back, mosey over to your local US mailbox or county ballot box, and drop it in. Congratulations, you have successfully participated in democracy in your pajamas.

This. This is the pinnacle of voting.

If you don’t have this already, demand it from your state government. There is no reason for your state not to adopt the same thing as Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii — besides voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and cronyism.

Demand it from your state representatives.
Demand it from your state senators.
Demand it for democracy.

I am not OK

The results of last Tuesday hit me really hard and I’ve been in a media blackout since then, both social and mainstream. I’ve had several friends reach out and ask me how I’m doing.

I am not OK.

I am not OK with what the election means for my family’s physical safety. For the safety and security of my LGBTQ friends. My female friends. My Muslim friends. My Jewish friends. My friends of color.

I am not OK with the fear and depression permeating my community.

I am not OK feeling as though we just undid 50 years of social justice work.

I am not OK.

Post-election self-care

I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a total shit-show after the election yesterday. These are the self-care things I’m working on, maybe they’ll help you too.

― R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Choose kind. Be kind to yourself and others. Take a mental-health day from work.

Celebrate or grieve. For better or worse, yesterday was a monumental shift in American history. Give yourself permission to acknowledge and process it.

Feel the feels. It’s ok to feel and express emotions – it’s part and parcel of being human.

You are not alone. Regardless of which side you voted for, ~50% of the population agrees with you: you are not alone.

Look local. Significant local issues were on the ballot all across the US. Don’t let successes there be overshadowed by what happened at the federal level.

Ignore the markets. The stock market likes certainty and that got shot all to hell. Volatile times may lie ahead. History tells us that a well-diversified portfolio will weather the storm. Hang tight and don’t act rashly.

Exercise. Moving does the body good, be it a walk, run, hike, or kickboxing class. Sometimes it just feels good to punch something.

Avoid hyperbole. It’s too easy to make grand statements filled with absolutes based on what happened yesterday. Resist the urge to say things, particularly on social media, that you might later regret.

Take a social-media vacation. Consider stepping away from the computer or phone. Create some art. Read a book. Write your mémoire (NaNoWriMo anyone?). Have dinner with friends.

But most importantly: choose kind.

I love the things that you’ve given me
I cherish you, my dear country
But sometimes I don’t understand
The way we play

I love the things that you’ve given me
And most of all that I am free
To have a song that I can sing
On election day
― Norah Jones, My Dear Country

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 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.

Register to vote and update your address!

The November elections are less than 100 days away and now is the time to make sure you’re registered to vote and that your voter registration address is correct!

Washington state

Washington state residents can register to vote online.

If you’ve moved since last November, even next door, it’s equally important to update your voter registration address. Your address determines where your ballot will get mailed, and also which district you are in for various races, so having your address up-to-date is important.

The deadline to register or update your address online or by mail is October 10th. You can do so in person until October 31st.

Other states makes registering in your state very easy, just go to and select your state to get information on how to register.

Trust but verify

Until now and October 31st I’m going to be That Person who is asking everyone he runs across if they’re registered to vote and checked their voter registration address. Because if you aren’t registered, you can’t vote.

And remember, while we will be voting for President this November, we’re also voting for federal and state senators, representatives and in many cases governors and other state officials as well!

Any 3rd-party candidate results in a Republican president

Today’s civics pop quiz: What happens if 3 or more candidates run for President and none of them get a majority of the electoral votes?

No really, what happens? Surely our constitution covers this, right?

Of course it does! Say hello to this part of the 12th Amendment:

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

See, it isn’t as though presidential candidates need to get the most electoral votes of all candidates to become president, they need a majority of the available votes. If no one candidate gets a majority the House of Representatives, currently controlled by the Republicans, gets to choose the next President of the United States among the 3 candidates who received the most votes (this write-up covers the nuances of that in much better detail). Interestingly, this last happened in 1824.

Pretty much any way you slice it, this makes any 3rd party candidate a disastrous scenario for Democrats this November.

For instance, if Sanders were to run as an independent he would peel off votes from Clinton making it unlikely either one of them will get the required majority, allowing the House to select Trump as President.

This means Democrats want Republicans to rally around Trump, not reject him. If, outside the Republican party, the Republicans put up a moderate 3rd-party candidate, that candidate could pull enough votes away from Clinton and Trump to prevent either of them getting a majority. Then the House steps in and selects this 3rd-party candidate as President.

This is why if Clinton gets the Democratic nomination we desperately need Bernie to not run as a 3rd party candidate and for us Bernie supporters to rally around Clinton in the general election rather than a 3rd party candidate.

This is also one of the reasons the US has the two-party system it does.

Everything you need to know to participate in the WA State Presidential Primary

The Washington State Presidential Primary takes place Tuesday, May 24th. Being a mail-in ballot state, ballots will be mailed to all registered voters on May 6th. Here’s what you need to know to participate in the primary.

Validate your voter registration

April 25th was the deadline for updating your voter registration for the primary. You can still register to vote in person until May 16th.

Now is a great time to make sure your address is correct for the general election in November. The deadline to update your address online or by mail is October 10th. You can do so in person until October 31st.

If you aren’t registered to vote, you can fix that right here.

You must pick a party

Washington State does not require voters to register with a party and any voter can vote for any presidential candidate in the primary. On your ballot, however, you will be required to affirm that you are only backing one and only one party, either the Democrats or the Republicans, for the primary.

This means that if you participated in the Democratic caucus, you can only vote for a Democratic candidate in the primary. If you did not participate in the Democratic caucus, you can vote for any candidate from either party in the primary.

Voting for a Republican candidate

With Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropping out of the race, and Donald Trump seen as the de facto GOP nominee, you may be wondering why you should vote at all. And the answer is important: you should always vote. The truth of the matter is that the Republican nominee is chosen at the convention and there is still the possibility of a contested convention. Moreover, you should vote for your voice, as part of Washington state Republicans, to be heard.

If you want to vote for one of the Republican candidates, and did not participate in the Democratic caucus, you will need to:

  1. Mark your ballot for one of the four candidates:
  2. Select the Republican Party box on the outside of your ballot
  3. Sign your ballot, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

Ballots must be postmarked by May 24th.

Voting for a Democratic candidate

Washington State Democrats used their caucus on March 26th to select their candidate and will not be using the results of the primary to allocate any of their delegates. Said another way: if you did not participate in the caucus you have missed your chance to vote for one of the Democratic candidates prior to the general election.

But you should still vote.

Too many times people have used misinformation to disenfranchise others of their right to vote. Despite believing my information to be correct and linking to the Washington Secretary of State website, you should always question when someone is telling you not to vote. Always vote. Always.

If you want to vote for one of the Democratic candidates you will need to:

  1. Mark your ballot for one of the two candidates:
  2. Select the Democrat Party box on the outside of your ballot
  3. Sign your ballot, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

Ballots must be postmarked by May 24th.

Other Resources

You should have received a copy of the Washington State Voter’s Pamphlet in the mail already. If you haven’t, you can access a PDF of it online or find a copy at your local library.

The Washington Secretary of State’s website has additional FAQs as well.


Regardless of who you vote for, I strongly encourage you to vote. The next president of the United States will shape the country over the next four years and you have a say in who that will be even as early as the state primary.

Reflections on my WA Democratic Caucus blog post

On February 24th, I posted a blog entry titled Everything you need to know to participate in the WA Democratic Caucus, which does pretty much what the title suggests without endorsing either candidate. I wrote it because I hoped it would help others become involved in the caucus process by providing them information that I struggled to find myself.

Much to my astonishment, the post was viewed by thousands of people, at least two orders of magnitude more than any other post I’ve ever written. The lion’s share of the traffic originated from Facebook with a smattering from other places. I even ended up fielding questions. I answered those that seemed clear to me and acted as a proxy between the WA Democratic Party for a few others. I censored the two comments endorsing specific candidates but kept all the others.

The whole experience was fascinating and I am delighted to have helped people participate in the caucus, even in a small way.

Some interesting numbers between when it was posted on February 24th to the caucus on March 26th:

  • The post was viewed 10,303 times (my average post gets around 50 views)
  • The link to register for the caucus was accessed 1,460 times
  • The link to the surrogate form was accessed 425 times
  • The link to validate a voter registration was accessed 1,250 times
  • The link to register to vote was accessed 160 times

To put these numbers in (a very small) perspective, an estimated 230,000 people participated in the caucus. I think I’m most proud of the last two, quite honestly. The caucus is important, but being registered to vote in the November election is far more important.

I intend to do another post about participating in the WA state primary happening in May, which is likely to get decidedly less traffic but I view as important all the same.

Everything you need to know to participate in the WA Democratic Caucus

On Saturday, March 26th at 10a neighbors will be gathering to participate in the Democratic Caucus in Washington State. There they will cast their support for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know to participate in this process.

Validate your voter registration

In Washington, any registered voter can participate in a caucus. Start by validating your registration to ensure your name and address are correct. If the address is incorrect, that site will allow you to change it.

Not registered to vote? You can fix that right here.

Find your caucus location

Caucuses are local events near you, not in some far-flung corner of Olympia. To find your caucus location, fill out this simple form at the Washington State Democrats’ website. This will also pre-register you for the caucus. The site may ask you to print out a pre-registration form. If you are unable to do so, don’t worry about it! Pre-registration (and the form they want you to print after doing so) is entirely optional and is in no way required to attend the caucus.

If you have problems finding your caucus location on the website, I encourage you to contact the WA Democratic Party for assistance.

Be sure to mark your calendars for the caucus on March 26th at 10a. Block off at least 2 hours.

Show up and caucus!

It sounds intimidating, but it’s really easy even for us introverted techies. Just show up at your caucus location on Saturday, March 26th at 10a. There will be someone from the Washington Democratic party there, probably with Starbucks coffee and Top Pot donuts, to walk you through the details, but it basically amounts to raising your hand for the candidate of your choice. Before the vote you have the opportunity to discuss your candidate with others present, but your only real requirement is raising your hand for your candidate.

That’s it, all there is to it!

Can’t make the caucus?

If you are unable to make the caucus for religious, military, or work reasons, or have a disability or illness that prevents you from attending the caucus, you can fill out and mail in a surrogate form. When filling out the form you can use the voter validation website to confirm the exact spelling of your name as it is registered.

I’ll point out that the 2016 Washington State Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan in no way specifies what counts as “observance of my religion”. I leave it to you to apply that phrase to your life however you see fit.

Note that the surrogate form must be received no later than 5p Friday, March 18th so get that done sooner rather than later if necessary.

Washington state also has a primary, why should we caucus?

From the Washington Secretary of State’s 2016 Presidential Primary FAQ:

The political parties retain the authority to decide if they will use the Presidential Primary to allocate delegates to the national nomination conventions. The political parties may also use caucus results, or a combination of primary results and caucus results.

The Republican Party will use the Presidential Primary results to allocate 100% of their convention delegates. The Democratic Party will not use the Primary Election results to allocate any of their delegates. They will rely solely on the results of their Precinct Caucuses on March 26th.

So for Democrats the caucus is your one and only chance to select between the two candidates.

Two good candidates, only one President

We Democrats are fortunate to have two good candidates running for President this year, but only one of them gets the job. If you’re passionate about which one it should be, participating in your local primary or caucus is your most direct method of voicing that opinion. I encourage you to participate!


Post updated 2016/02/27 @ 2215 with additional information based on submitted questions.

Romney and the Religious Right

The Religious Right, specifically the Evangelicals, are in a tizzy. Their worst fear is that Romney will get the Republican nomination and they’ll be left with two unpalatable choices: a Democrat who is a Christian1 or a Republican who is a cultist2.

Lest you think I’m joking, let me reassure you that I know from first-hand experience. I was raised in a small town in the Texas panhandle. I attended church in that town from when I was born until I left for college at 16. About 12 years or so of that was at the Methodist church and the other half was at the First Baptist church (part of the Southern Baptist Convention). And despite the greater Methodist church being more accepting and liberal – Methodist churches in small towns are as conservative as you can get. So I can speak with authority what conservative small town evangelicals are taught and, presumably, believe.

Both churches taught that Mormons3 weren’t Christians but were, in fact, a cult. These churches only begrudgingly conceded that Catholics are Christian if pressed4. But Mormons? They’re in the same bucket as Jehovah Witnesses, wiccans, and satan worshipers.

So that brings us back to Romney. A group of evangelical leaders met this past weekend to decide which non-Romney candidate they’ll support. Note that it wasn’t which Republican candidate, but which non-Romney candidate. Their choice? Rick Santorum. Keep in mind that Santorum is Catholic, not Protestant. They’re that desperate to keep Romney out of the White House. Their only non-Mormon, non-Catholic choices were Rick Perry and Ron Paul, neither of which are serious competitors to Romney. So why Santorum instead of Gingrich, who is also Catholic? My guess is that the twice-divorced, cheated-on-two-wives Gingrich isn’t the “family values” candidate they were looking for.

What does this mean for those of us not falling off the right side of sanity? Grab some popcorn, throw a couple of bucks Romney’s way before the primary, and watch the evangelicals squirm from now through November.

Update: And just in case you don’t believe me.

1 Assuming they really believe he’s a Christian as he professes to be. Many of them still believe he’s a Muslim. Sadly I’m not joking.

2 I don’t believe this. Or rather I believe that most all religious groups are cults. Either way, I hold that Mormons are no worse off than anyone else.

3 Anyone seen the new Mormon ad campaign? The buses around here have large, 3-panel ads with a person in each panel with the phrase “I’m a Mormon” in them. Sadly. Every time I see one my mind parses it as “I’m a moron”. Mormons aren’t morons, and I don’t think they are. But pure #FAIL on the ad campaign.

4 If cornered they usually say something like “As long as [the Catholic] accepted Jesus as their savior, then they’re a Christian. If they haven’t and are just listening to the pope, they’re not”.