PIERCE COUNTY, WA — Friday, officials mailed out ballots to Pierce County's more than 550,000 registered voters for the 2020 General Election on Nov. 3.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson says her office projects that 85 percent of those voters will cast their ballots, but is prepared for the possibility of a 90 percent turnout. More than 20,000 Pierce County residents have registered to vote just since the primary election in early August, and Anderson says, more are likely on the way.
"We are drowning in a good way, in a good way. We were projecting 550,00 registered voters for this election, and we will exceed that by [October 9], and voters still have plenty of time to register," Anderson said. "I'm projecting conservatively 560,000 registered voters for Pierce County."
This year's big-ticket item will be the presidential election, but Pierce County voters will find their ballots stuffed with dozens of important federal, state, and local races, including the race for Pierce County Executive, Sheriff, and four county council seats.
Key dates from Pierce County Elections:
Oct. 16: Ballots mailed to registered voters. Pierce County Election Center opens.
Oct. 21: Voters should have their ballot by this date
Oct. 26: Online and mail voter registration deadline
Nov. 3: Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked by this date and drop boxes close promptly at 8 p.m.
In Washington, those who still need to register to vote or update their information can do so online or by mail through Oct. 26. After that date, registration can only be done in-person at a designated Vote Center until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Helpful links for Pierce County voters:
If your ballot does not show up right away, don't panic, says Auditor Anderson.
"If you haven't received a ballot by October 23rd, give us a call 253-798-VOTE (8683) or email us, and we'll do some research, and if necessary we'll mail you a replacement ballot," Anderson said. "We'll cancel the first one that we issued, and mail you a second one."
If you're not sure that a ballot is headed your way, Anderson says it's important to get registered as soon as possible.
"Have a plan, so if you don't remember the last time you voted, you really need to check your voter registration at votewa.gov. Look up your voter registration record. Are you active? Do we have your correct address? Do that now."
What to expect on election night
Washington has been voting by mail for years, but it's important for voters to remember the results of the November election will not be instantaneous. While the first round of results the night Nov. 3 will represent a sizable portion of the vote, it won't be all of it.
"Our goal is to have everything we have in hand counted by election night," Anderson said. "In hand means that we've received it, we've verified the voter's identity, we've matched their signature, we've opened the ballot and tabulated it. So if a ballot has gotten through that process on Election Day, it'll be in the count at eight."
Anderson estimates that means roughly 40 percent of the vote will be accounted for on election night in Pierce County— though that number will be higher, if more residents get ahead of the curve and vote early.
"Although November the third is Election Day, I call that an election deadline," Anderson said. "You've got 18 days to vote, vote as early as you can. We don't want to rush anybody, but based on my conversations and word on the street, people have pretty much made up their minds, so there's no advantage to delay and it only hampers the election process."
Even with a high early vote turnout, voting results will shift slightly in the following days and weeks after the election deadline, as the Auditor's Office works to make sure every vote is counted.
"Washington State is all about counting every possible vote. There are some voters who will forget to sign their outer envelope and their voter declaration. There are some voters whose signatures will not match, and those are challenged votes," said Anderson. "We give voters an opportunity to cure those challenges, right up until the day before certification."
Federal elections allow for 21 days before a vote is certified, meaning the Nov 3. Election results will be certified on Nov 24. Still, to make their job earlier and to make the results of the election as clear as possible, the auditor is urging voters to cast their ballots as quickly as they can.
"We want to have the biggest number of ballots possible, counted and included in that eight o'clock release on election night."
Challenges facing this election
Election night is already a hassle for politicos and journalists alike, but the pandemic certainly hasn't made it any easier.
"One of the thing that's hampering us a little bit is COVID-19, and being able to fit the number of election workers we need in a space and maintain public health requirements and safety," Anderson said. "
All the more reason, to get those ballots out early and counted well in advance of election night.
"Once you receive your ballot, vote as early as you possibly can," said Anderson. "We don't want to rush people's choices, but the earlier the ballots get in in Washington state, we're allowed to begin opening and processing before election day."
Another concern have been recent attacks on the United States Postal Service from the federal government, and worries that those attacks may cause issues delivering the vote. Anderson says Washingtonians can rest easy, that won't be a problem here.
"I'm confident that the Postal Service and mail carriers in Washington state are going to be operating as normal, within the same parameters that they have been in the whole decade that we've been doing vote by mail," Anderson said. "Delivery standards have not changed, and distribution centers have not changed. There was a lot of conflicting reports. It wasn't misinformation, it was just literally conflicting reports, especially about Tacoma. There were reports that the high speed sorter had been removed from the Tacoma distribution center and the common distribution center would be closed, and that is not true. Nothing has changed in Pierce County."