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Washington State—the poster girl for voting by mail

“There is tremendous evidence of fraud whenever you have mail-in ballots,” Mr. Trump claimed during an appearance in Arizona, a statement that has no basis in the experience of the states that give voters the option of voting by mail.

Since 2011, Washington voters have marked ballots at home and sent them to the county auditor (or dropped them off at the courthouse), with every confidence that their votes—and no others—would determine the outcome of an election. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, and Utah are all vote-by-mail states.

With all mail ballots, voting is easy though it might have lost an important contribution to civic life represented by meeting your neighbors at the polls.  In a major study of voting during Washington’s 2016 General Election, investigators turned up only 74 potential cases of individuals who were ineligible to vote, or otherwise committed electoral fraud in the state, out of 3.36 million votes cast.

In fact, the protections against ineligible people voting are so strong that the more likely problem is that eligible voters might find themselves without a ballot unless they make an effort to ensure their registration is accurate and current. In years past, the concern was with making voting easier, because for a democracy to function, every eligible voter MUST vote.

With the 2020 election being profoundly important to our future, and with legitimate concerns about voting during a pandemic, our state can show the way to a voter turnout that is both politically and personally healthy.

Maintaining accurate rolls of voters

If an election-related piece of mail is returned by the post office as undeliverable to a registered voter, the county puts that registration on “inactive” status.  In order to get back to status as a registered voter, you have to contact the county to update an address, request a ballot or submit a new registration application.

The problem is that you don’t know that the election notice was returned because you’re not at that address! So, check your registration or if you don’t get a ballot at election time, contact the county.

Uh oh.  Can your registration be cancelled if you just don’t vote?

If you’re at the same address and choose not to vote, your registration can’t be cancelled. If you move however, and election-related mail is returned to the county elections office as undeliverable, your registration will be placed on inactive status. An inactive registration can be cancelled if you don’t vote in two federal general elections.

How valid voter rolls are verified

How do they know the ballot you mailed in was yours to vote—and wasn’t sent as one of thousands prepared by Russians or …whoever it is that Donald Trump thinks is going to mail in fake ballots? There are two provisions in state law that provide the answer:

RCW 29A.60.050 requires that when the people who count the ballots have a question about validity, they make a record of the issue and send it with the ballot to the “canvassing board.”  The ballot is rejected finally only if it’s been rejected individually by the board. and then it has to be preserved just in case.

RCW 29A.60.300.  Statewide survey of voted ballot rejection rates and reasons for rejections. Every odd-numbered year, the secretary of state must conduct and publish a statewide survey of voted ballot rejection rates and the reasons for those rejections by county auditors and canvassing boards.

RCW 29A.60.300 requires the Secretary of State to make a study every 2 years of rejection rates (and reasons) for ballots having been rejected across all counties. They’re supposed to analyze auditors’ practices and recommend improvements to minimize rejections—among other things. The report has to be available to the public.

Other protections

You should register to vote if you’ve had a felony conviction and are no longer under the supervision of the DOC because your right to vote is restored. Three times a year, the Secretary of State uses information provided by the Department of Corrections and the state court system to screen the list of registered voters for felons who are ineligible. If you are registered to vote, but are ineligible because of a felony conviction, they will send you a letter explaining that your registration will be cancelled in 30 days. The letter provides information on how to dispute the cancellation.  Assuming you got the letter…

And… the Secretary of State’s office routinely compares its voter registration database to lists of deaths and new felony convictions. They look for duplicates every night!

A note of caution and confidence: An Olympia resident a few years ago called his daughter to fill out her ballot while she was away at school, then carefully copied her signature and sent her ballot in. Imagine his surprise when the ballot came back a couple of weeks after the election because the signature did not match his daughter’s signature on file. Not so easy to fool the auditor.


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