Primary election ballots are in mail to voters

Yakima County voters will see something different when they start getting ballots in the mail this week for the Aug. 7 primary election -- the flap that for the past few years has covered their signatures will be gone.

The flap became a requirement on all ballot envelopes in 2005 as the state moved toward voting entirely by mail.

But county auditors in 2010 convinced the Legislature that the flaps added expense to the envelopes themselves and in staff time to process them, so the Legislature eliminated the requirement.

Benton and Franklin counties each dropped the flap sometime last year, auditors said.

"There is a significant cost savings not just in the production of the envelopes but in staff time," Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton told the Herald.

She said a few voters have expressed concern about their signatures being exposed, but Chilton said there's little risk of any foul play.

If ballots are mailed, they are picked up out of the mailbox by mail carriers and taken for sorting, then picked up from the mail distribution center directly by elections staff, Chilton said.

"The only people who come into contact with the ballots are mail handlers and elections staff," she said.

And only elections staff -- the people who would look at the signatures anyway -- handle the ballots dropped in ballot drop boxes, she said.

Franklin County Elections Supervisor Diana Garza Killian told the Herald that the same procedures exist for Franklin County ballots.

Killian said her office hasn't gotten any complaints about the missing flap -- but she thinks voters remember that mail-in ballots didn't have the flap anyway before 2005.

"It is a very expensive envelope, so we needed to switch," Killian said.

Both counties are working to increase the number of ballot drop boxes so voters can feel secure their signatures are seen only by elections staff.

In addition to the boxes at the courthouse in Prosser, the annex off of Canal Drive in Kennewick and the annex on Wellsian Way in Richland, the Benton County Auditor's Office just opened a drive-up drop box at Jefferson Park in Richland and is adding boxes at West Richland and Kennewick city halls.

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. Killian said the county is looking to add another box in west Pasco, possibly at Road 100.

Yakima County has drop boxes in the auditor's office and outside the courthouse security station on North Second Street in Yakima, outside the courthouse on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Yakima, at the courthouse security station on North Second Street, at Toppenish High School and at WorkSource in Sunnyside on Morgan Road.

Primary ballots were mailed Wednesday and must be returned or postmarked by Aug. 7.

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