Vote early, and other general election advice from the county auditor

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Ballots for the November 3 general election were mailed on October 14 and Whatcom County auditor Diana Bradrick advised voters to return their ballots quickly.

Typically, about half of Whatcom County ballots are returned during election week, Bradrick said. That creates a flood of work for the election office, slowing the vote count.

“The earlier we get them, the easier it is to spread the work out,” Bradrick said. “The more ballots we get early, the more ballots we’re going to have tallied on election night.”

Voters who don’t get their ballot by Wednesday, October 21, should contact the auditor’s office to get a replacement.

In Washington state, most voters return their ballot by mail or use ballot drop boxes. Voters who need audio and visual assistance or other reasonable accommodations may vote using the “accessible voting unit” in the auditor’s office starting October 14.

The postal service recommends that people mail their ballot back by Tuesday, October 27 to make sure it’s postmarked by Election Day. After that, it would be better to use a drop box. Voting by mail doesn’t require a postage stamp.

Though Bradrick has heard people question whether they should use the U.S. Postal Service for this election, she said she’s confident in the agency’s ability to deliver ballots.

“It’s really important that people understand they can trust the postal service. I don’t know if they will, just because I said so, but really, they can trust the postal service and should feel they can use the postal service,” Bradrick said.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman also said she expects USPS ballot delivery and return services to work without significant delay or interruption, as always.

“In our decades-long experience with mail-in voting, we remain confident in our partnership with the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to continue delivering the same outstanding service to voters, the Office of the Secretary of State, and Washington’s 39 county election officials,” Wyman said in an August press release.

The other option is to turn your ballot in at one of 20 drop boxes around the county by 8 p.m. on November 3. Plan ahead to avoid lines, especially if you plan to drive to a drop box.

Local drop box locations are:

– The Blaine Library, at 610 3rd Street

– North Whatcom Fire and Rescue station 63 in Birch Bay, at 4581 Birch Bay-Lynden Road

– Custer Elementary School, at 7660 Custer School Road

– The International Marketplace in Point Roberts, at 480 Tyee Drive

Voters should already have their voters’ pamphlet, which includes Whatcom County general election candidates. There’s an online version at votewa.gov or at co.whatcom.wa.us/1732/current-election.

Still time to register

Though ballots are already out, there’s still time to register to vote or change registration information. Bradrick encourages all voters to check their voter registration at votewa.gov.

“People who only vote in presidential elections, they may have moved and their registration may have become inactive,” she said.

Whatcom County residents must register to vote or change their address online or by mail by Monday, October 26. That can be done at votewa.gov. To register online you’ll need a current Washington state driver’s license or permit, or a state identification card. If you don’t have state ID, you can still register to vote in person.

Those who miss that deadline can still register to vote or change their address in person at the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office at 311 Grand Avenue, Suite 103, in Bellingham, until November 3. Anyone visiting the auditor’s office is required to wear a mask, stay six feet from others and should expect long lines during election week.

The auditor’s office will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 31, to allow people to register to vote or change their registration information. The only other time the office is open outside of its normal 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hours is evening on Election Day, when it’s open until 8 p.m.

Election security

State law requires that two people be present any time ballot boxes are unlocked and emptied. In Whatcom County, that’s a team from the auditor’s office. Their activity is logged throughout the day so there’s a record of who handled the ballots.

Tamper-evident seals are placed on drop boxes every time they’re opened so that election workers know if someone accessed the ballots without permission. Workers put the ballots in a sealed transportation box and bring them back to the office, where the seal is verified before its opened to process ballots.

Ballot drop boxes are emptied at least once a day, Bradrick said. The auditor’s office monitors those boxes and if they’re getting a lot of use they’ll empty them multiple times a day. Some of the busiest boxes get emptied four or five times on Election Day,
she said. 

In addition to daily checks by auditor’s office staff, Bradrick said plain clothes security guards will monitor heavily used boxes and roving security will check others. Her office is also alerting law enforcement and asking them to keep an eye on the boxes.

Tracking results

Preliminary results will be released online on election night, and both local and state auditor’s offices will release updated preliminary results daily after that. Elections are certified (officially verified by election offices) on November 24, 2020.

Statewide election results can be tracked at the secretary of state’s election results page: bit.ly/2GQlQp9. Local results can be tracked at the county auditor’s website, at co.whatcom.wa.us/199/auditor. Click on “Elections” and then “Current Election” in the bar on the left side of the page.

Learn more about local elections at the Whatcom County auditor’s website, or votewa.gov.

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