Quarter of election ballots returned in Franklin, Benton counties

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 30, 2012 

With a week to go before this year's election, about 28 percent of Benton County ballots and 25 percent of Franklin County ballots have been returned.

But elections officials in both counties would like to see that number climb to at least 85 percent by Nov. 6.

Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton told the Herald she is optimistic the combination of the hotly contested presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the neck-and-neck governor's race between Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna, and some high-interest ballot measures in Washington will draw voters to mark and return their ballots.

"The combination of all of them, I think, is going to drive up the turnout," Chilton said.

Benton County mailed 98,588 ballots to registered voters and Monday had received more than 27,000.

Chilton expects to mail at least a couple of hundred more ballots to people who showed up at the Auditor's Office and its satellite offices Monday for the last day of voter registration.

Those registrations will be processed and ballots mailed today, meaning newly registered voters should have them in hand by Wednesday or Thursday, she said.

Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton said his office also was busy with voter registrations Monday, although he didn't have numbers on Monday afternoon when he spoke to the Herald.

Franklin County mailed 29,300 ballots this year, and as of Monday, had received about 7,300.

Beaton said his office is working to encourage high voter turnout for the general election after seeing a meager 33 percent turnout for the August primary.

"It was one of the lowest for our county," he said.

Toward that end, Beaton produced an online video public service announcement reminding residents to get out the vote, and has several 24-hour drop boxes in the county where people can turn in their ballots.

Franklin County has boxes inside and outside the courthouse in Pasco, at the annex at Third Avenue and Clark Street in Pasco, at TRAC and in Connell. The county recently opened a new ballot box at Fire District No. 3 station, 2108 Road 84.

Benton County has boxes at the courthouse in Prosser, the annex off of Canal Drive in Kennewick and the annex on Wellsian Way in Richland, Jefferson Park in Richland, and West Richland and Kennewick city halls.

Benton County Auditor's offices also will be open extended hours to receive ballots from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. election day.

Offices are at the Benton County Courthouse, 620 Market St., Prosser; 5600 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick; and 101 Wellsian Way Suite E, Richland.

Ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service require first-class postage, which costs 45 cents for Benton County ballots and 65 cents for Franklin County ballots, which are thicker because federal law requires the county to produce them in English and Spanish.

All ballots must be dropped off or post-marked by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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