Politics & Government

You can vote by mail after Nov. 4 — but your ballot might not be counted, elections officials say

Some readers in Pierce County were confused by instructions to mail their ballots four days before Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 to be counted, not Nov. 4 — but mailing your ballot early helps ensure it is postmarked by Election Day, Pierce County elections officials say.
Some readers in Pierce County were confused by instructions to mail their ballots four days before Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 to be counted, not Nov. 4 — but mailing your ballot early helps ensure it is postmarked by Election Day, Pierce County elections officials say.

No, you don’t have to mail your ballot by Nov. 4 for it to be counted, but it will most certainly help, county elections officials say.

The actual postmark deadline for ballots is Election Day, which is Tuesday, Nov. 8. But some say the ballot instructions Pierce County elections officials sent out last week made that less than clear.

The News Tribune received a handful of emails questioning what appeared to be an incorrect mail-by date in an insert county officials included with ballots mailed late last week.

The instruction sheet from the Pierce County Auditor’s Office reads, “Return your ballot early!” with a reminder, “Mail by November 4 (Stamp required).”

Similar instructions appeared in the Pierce County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet, which was mailed a week before ballots went out.

Elsewhere in the voter pamphlet, elections officials clarified that they are recommending voters mail their ballots by Nov. 4 to ensure those ballots are postmarked by Election Day.

While it is possible to mail a ballot after Nov. 4 and get it postmarked in time, voters will be taking a chance that their ballots will be postmarked too late, said Mike Rooney, Pierce County’s elections manager.

Ballots postmarked after Nov. 8 won’t be included in election results.

More than 1,700 Pierce County ballots were postmarked too late to be counted in the Aug. 2 election, according to the Auditor’s Office.

“We’re trying to enfranchise voters and ensure every vote is counted,” Rooney said Monday.

Rooney said the instructions to mail ballots four days early follow new recommendations the U.S. Postal Service issued in March, which encouraged voters to return ballots a week before the due date “to account for any unforeseen events or weather issues.”

Instructions to mail ballots four days before the election were included in the Pierce County voter pamphlets for the Aug. 2 primary and the April 26 special election. But this is the first time a ballot insert has included the recommendation to mail ballots four days in advance, since not all elections require such an insert, Rooney said.

Prior to the March recommendations from the Postal Service, ballot inserts in Pierce County suggested voters mail their ballots one day early, not four.

Rooney said the envelope voters use to return their ballot still states that ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and doesn’t include the Nov. 4 recommendation.

The language in Pierce County’s ballot instructions drew sharp criticism Monday from Tina Podlodowski, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections in Washington.

“This failure to provide accurate information clearly has led to voter confusion and could lead to voters failing to cast their ballots altogether,” Podlodowski wrote in a letter to Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.

Podlodowski demanded that Anderson take immediate action to clarify that the deadline to return ballots is Nov. 8, including by sending out a new mailing to voters.

Anderson, who recently appeared in a TV ad supporting Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Podlodowski’s opponent, said her office doesn’t intend to do more to inform people of the Nov. 8 postmark deadline.

“We think that the message is clear, and we think it is going to get even more amplified as Election Day approaches,” Anderson said.

“We’re going to stay on the track that we are on,” Anderson said, which is advising people to mail their ballots by Nov. 4.

Anderson said voters whose ballots are postmarked too late get a letter from her office informing them that their votes couldn’t be counted. She said she is trying to save some voters from getting those notices.

“Can you imagine how angry you would be if you as a voter (got that letter)?” Anderson asked.

Voters also can return unstamped ballots to an official election drop box by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, to have them counted in the general election. That information appeared in the voting instructions Pierce County officials sent with ballots last week, as well as in the county voter pamphlet.

 

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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