Guest opinion: Of ballot errors and ballot boxes

Another election chapter is in the books.

But before it is catalogued with its predecessors, here are a couple of key questions ahead of a busy and impactful year of electoral competitions in 2020.

Why do so many voters keep messing up?

It is literally too easy to vote in Washington, yet 25,406 ballots cast in the Nov. 5 election did not get counted for one avoidable reason or another. There were 2 million ballots counted statewide, so that works out to a little more than 1 out of every 100 getting tossed.

The main infirmity was a late postmark. Across the state, 14,337 ballots arrived too late to be tallied. Atop the leader board for voter tardiness were King County, with 4,790, and Snohomish County, with 1,788. If you’re wondering, yes, the postage on those must still be paid by taxpayers.

The other primary reason for rejections involved signatures or lack thereof. Auditors received 2,928 unsigned ballots. Each of those voters had a chance to fix things by signing a piece of paper and mailing it back to election workers — again without a stamp. They didn’t. On another 7,340 ballots, the signature on the envelope didn’t match the one in election office records.

Will free postage make ballot drop boxes obsolete?

Many counties found ballot collection boxes to be pretty popular among voters when they first went in. That’s how 56.9 percent of the state’s voters returned their ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

The next year, lawmakers ordered a further proliferation by requiring counties provide one for every 15,000 registered voters and at least one in each city, town and census-designated place with a post office. In the 2017 general election, 54.7 percent of ballots came back by way of drop boxes across the state.

But in 2018, lawmakers, following action by King County leaders, agreed to have the state pay postage on ballots returned through the mail. This idea of pre-paid postage gained a degree of permanence in the current state budget. Folks are taking advantage and, in some places, they’ve gone away from using a drop box.

In last month’s election, roughly 51 percent came back via mail. The rate of drop box use was around 47 percent in King County, 49 percent in Pierce County and 39 percent in Spokane County. In Snohomish County, where the total has nearly doubled in three years, it was 52 percent.

With three statewide elections looming — one of those the presidential primary — this will be an interesting year to see in which box voters choose to put their ballots.

Election fatigue?

Prepare now for what could be ballot fatigue later.

There are three key elections scheduled in the state this year, plus two more mostly school-related election dates (in February and April) for a lot of you.

March 10 — This is the state’s presidential primary. You read that right. It is the earliest ever for the state. And, for the first time, the Democratic and Republican parties will each allot delegates to candidates based on the results.

In other words, the primary could actually be meaningful. Not so much for Republicans, because their guy, President Donald Trump, will be unopposed.

For Democratic candidates, it could matter. It depends on who is on the ballot and still in the race.

Aug. 4 — It’s the regular primary. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking a third term and should be the top vote-getter.

If Tim Eyman is still in the race — hey, he might not file — this would be a day of reckoning. He’s running as an independent. To finish in the top two, he must beat a crowded field of Republicans.

We know how voters across the state feel about his car-tab initiatives. Now we’ll get an idea of how they feel about letting him run the state.

Nov. 3 — Americans pick a president on this day. Four years ago, Trump got the job. He wants another term. He’s brushed off the fact that he’s been impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. He’s counting on being acquitted soon by the Republican-controlled Senate.

In this state, the Democratic candidate, whoever it is, will win. As far as the rest of the nation goes, we’ll all watch together as we did four years ago.

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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