From tearing off envelope flaps to operating scanning machines, election workers are bustling to handle ballots for Pierce Countys first all-vote-by-mail presidential election Tuesday.
The countys 58 polling places from 2008 are gone. That means more ballots are flowing into the countys election center, where the Auditors Office is running double shifts to process them.
Instead of handling two elections one at polling places and one through the mail workers can focus on ballots delivered to the center.
Weve streamlined the operation, said chief deputy auditor Lori Augino.
Auditor Julie Anderson says the cost will be about one-third cheaper, and her office will have more returns sooner than in the 2008 presidential election.
Four years ago, the work was complicated by the countys use of ranked choice voting, which required two ballot cards. In addition, the Legislature permitted counties to start scanning ballots a day earlier, on Monday, this year.
What this change allows us to do is keep up with the work, Anderson said. We will be reporting more results more quickly than we would have otherwise.
Anderson projects an 80 percent turnout of the countys 442,983 registered voters for Tuesdays election. Thats one percent less than the projected statewide turnout for this year. Its also one percent less than Pierce Countys actual turnout four years ago.
But while the percentages might be flat, the volume of total ballots is expected to rise. Thats because the number of registered voters in Pierce County has increased nearly 8 percent since 2008.
The Auditors Office projects 354,386 registered voters in Pierce County will cast ballots.
Voters who still need to return their ballots Tuesday should drop them off at one of the countys 27 drop boxes or six voting centers by
8 p.m., Anderson said. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday.
The election center near the county annex is operating in two shifts from 6 a.m. to midnight through Friday. The auditors office has hired 555 temporary workers for the general election season. They earn about $10 an hour.
Barbara Boskovich was one of more than 100 workers processing ballots Monday. She carried in a tray of 200 ballots for workers to tear open the outer envelopes.
We are de-flapping, said Boskovich, 80, of Fox Island.
Shes been a part-time election worker for 13 years. Boskovich said she enjoys the emotion surrounding presidential elections.
I like the people down here, Boskovich said. It keeps my mind active. It gets me out moving.
In the 2008 presidential election, only 13 percent of votes cast were done at polling places.
Pierce Countys last election with polling places was in November 2010.
They were underutilized and not popular with voters, and we were running two elections simultaneously, creating risk (of errors), Anderson said.
Anderson expects this presidential election to cost 34 percent or $823,570 less than the 2008 presidential election, primarily due to the expense of having a second ballot card for ranked choice voting that year. Polling places added to the cost of $2.43 million in 2008. Anderson has budgeted $1.61 million for this years presidential election.
The Legislature decided in March 2011 to end poll voting in Washington. The measure shut down polling places in Pierce County the last holdout among the states 39 counties.
Supporters said the move to an entirely vote-by-mail system would clarify state law and save money. Opponents said the change would strip Pierce County of its right to preserve in-person voting.
Nearly 500 election workers including permanent and temporary workers are on the job Tuesday. The Auditors Office is prepared to call in more people or let some go home as the workload dictates.
About one-half of all ballots are expected to be counted by 11 p.m. Tuesday. Anderson expects 90 percent of all ballots to be counted by Friday. The election will be certified Nov. 27.
This is Andersons first presidential election as auditor.
Its Auginos fifth in her 17 years with the Auditors Office. She said she enjoys the work.
Its about planning and deploying and reacting to any issues, Augino said.
Two problems have popped up so far.
Two weeks ago, anxious voters called the Auditors Office because Pierce Transits proposed sales tax increase didnt appear on their ballots, even though a 2011 proposal did.
The problem was that voters didnt realize Pierce Transit shrank its boundaries this year. As a result, there are 105,450 fewer voters in Pierce Transits taxing district.
The second problem occurred when voters for two precincts in the 10th Congressional District received ballots printed with the wrong district. Corrected ballots were mailed to 1,422 voters. The Auditors Office called the 112 voters Saturday who had only returned the incorrect ballot and reminded them to return the right one.