Here’s an October Surprise: Tri-City voters may be holding on to their ballots a little longer than usual, possibly to see what last-minute surprises surface in the testy race for president before Nov. 8.
Benton and Franklin counties both report receiving fewer ballots since mailing them last week than expected. As of Thursday, 13.8 percent of Benton County voters and 7 percent of their Franklin County neighbors had returned their ballots.
“I do think it’s because people are waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I’m not sure. Every election is different,” said Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton, an 18-year elections veteran.
She speculates voters could be taking time to wade through the long list of races and initiatives.
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“It’s a big ballot,” she said.
Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton said he’s intrigued by the slow start, but said a change in processing procedures could be affecting the flow.
I do think it’s because people are waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I’m not sure. Every election is different.
Brenda Chilton, Benton County auditor
Both counties mailed ballots last week in keeping with Washington’s all-mail voting system. They must be returned or postmarked by Nov. 8.
Now, as ballots trickle in, so too come the questions:
- Why doesn’t my ballot fit in the envelope (Tear off the perforated tab).
- Why isn’t the presidential race on my ballot (It is. Check both sides).
- Will my ballot count if I forgot to use the secrecy sleeve (It will but you can’t forget to sign the envelope).
- Do I need to use extra postage (Just regular postage within Benton and Franklin counties).
Teacher Sarah Ard had questions when she received a second ballot along with an explanation that the first had been voided because her change of address had arrived too late to avoid the first mailing.
But Ard has lived in the same home in unincorporated Benton County for 19 years. She hasn’t changed her address and her husband did not receive a second ballot. She’s puzzled and wonders if her ballot will be counted or double counted.
“For me it’s a big priority that everybody gets a chance to vote, she told the Herald.
For me it’s a big priority that everybody gets a chance to vote.
Sarah Ard, Benton County voter
Chilton said she’s investigating why Ard received a second ballot, but said technology will prevent any voided ballot from being logged in at the election office, rendering the chances of double voting moot.
Other questions center on correcting mistakes and in some cases, looking at the wrong ballot.
Rosa Fernández, Franklin County’s bilingual elections coordinator, said most questions come from people who accidentally signed a spouse’s ballot envelope or mistakenly filled in the wrong blank.
The solution: Cross out the error and fill in the correct signature or candidate bubble.
Another common question: Will a ballot count if the voter forgot to tuck it into a safety sleeve before sending it in?
“Absolutely it will still count,” she said.
Beaton said questions range from ordinary to confused, like the caller complaining that the presidential race wasn’t on the ballot. The caller was looking at an old ballot.
It’s a more common mistake than it sounds. Beaton said the county fields two to three old ballots that people still had from previous elections every election. Ditto for Benton County.
As of Oct. 27, Benton County had issued 103,875 ballots and Franklin County had issued 33,689. Those numbers will inch up slightly since new Washington voters may register through Oct. 31. Deadline to change addresses or make other changes for other votes already passed.
Despite the slow start, the turnout will unquestionably soar as the actual day gets closer.
In 2008, the last time the U.S. elected a new president, the local turnout was 84.4 percent in Franklin County and 84.7 percent in Benton.
For the ballot drop box nearest to you, visit myvote.wa.gov. All drop sites are open 24 hours until 8 p.m., Nov. 8.
Ballot drop box locations*
- Franklin County Courthouse, (drive-up) 1014 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco
- Fire Protection District No. 3 (drive-up), 2108 Road 84, Pasco
- Election Center (drive-up), 116 N. Third Ave., Pasco
- TRAC (drive-up), 6600 Burden Blvd., Pasco
- Connell PUD Shop (drive-up), 619 W. Clark St., Connell
- Benton County Courthouse, 620 Market St., Prosser
- Benton City Hall, 708 Ninth St., Benton City
- Kennewick Annex, (drive-up), 5600 W. Canal Drive
- Richland Annex, 101 Wellsian Way.
- Kennewick City Hall, 210 W. Sixth Ave.
- West Richland City Clerk, 3801 W. Van Giesen St.
- Jefferson Park, 1400 George Washington Way, Richland
For the drop box nearest to you, visit myvote.wa.gov.
*All drop sites open 24 hours until 8 p.m., Nov. 8.