School officials in the Tri-Cities are asking voters to get their ballots for Tuesday's special election in a dropbox or mailbox soon and not leave them to the last minute.
Voter turnout in Franklin and Benton counties for Tuesday's special election is down slightly compared to a similar election two years ago. The lower returns concern some Tri-City school officials, who are looking to voters to renew a number of expiring operations levies.
Elections officials said the decline isn't significant, and they expect to hit the same level of voter turnout as past elections.
"For us, it's a trend that's normal," said Diana Killian, elections administrator for the Franklin County auditor's office.
The levy renewals are needed to pay for basic school needs and programs such as athletics and the arts.
The levies were last renewed two years ago. They currently cost taxpayers in Richland $3.09 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The rate is $3.28 in Kennewick and $4.55 in Pasco.
Richland is seeking approval of a $3.14 rate from voters. Kennewick's rate would go up to $3.38 in 2013 and $3.48 in 2014. Pasco's rate would decline to $4.51 with a levy renewal.
Dave Bond, Kennewick School District superitendent, told school board members Wednesday night that he was concerned 800 fewer ballots had been turned into the Benton County auditor's office compared to this point in the district's last levy renewal two years ago.
Lorraine Cooper, district spokeswoman, said in an email, "I think it is because there is only a single issue on the ballot -- there isn't as much awareness or issues catching people's attention."
Steve Aagaard, Richland School District spokesman, said the total number of ballots returned isn't the district's primary concern in the election.
"The district's focus and the focus of the citizens levy committee has been on making sure our community is informed and that we obtain at least a 50 percent 'yes' vote on the ballots that are returned," Aagaard said.
As of Thursday morning, Benton County had processed 25,202 ballots, about 27 percent of the total sent to the county's registered voters. That tally does not include any ballots received by the county through the mail that day.
Stuart Holmes in the Benton County elections office said that the number of ballots does fluctuate day to day. He said more people are using dropboxes to cast their ballot rather than the mail. Dropboxes are not checked daily, while mail is.
"I think we're right on course to hit 41 percent (voter turnout)," Holmes said, equal to the total voter turnout in the last school levy renewal election.
In Franklin County, about 33 percent of ballots were accounted for. That number is 1 percent below what the county saw at the same time two years ago, but Killian said she is confident that voting will pick up next week.
Walla Walla County's ballot returns are ahead of where they were two years ago. Auditor Karen Martin said 39 percent of the county's ballots have been returned and the county is on its way to matching the 47 percent turnout it saw in 2010.