Residents await the collection of ballots from the JCPenney parking lot at 651 W. Washington St. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. Early returns filled at least two Clallam County drop boxes to capacity last week. (Photo courtesy of Barb Hanna)

Residents await the collection of ballots from the JCPenney parking lot at 651 W. Washington St. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. Early returns filled at least two Clallam County drop boxes to capacity last week. (Photo courtesy of Barb Hanna)

Ballots flooding into auditors’ offices

Early returns fill drop boxes

Ballot returns for the Nov. 3 presidential election are pouring in to elections offices.

North Olympic Peninsula auditors are dealing with a quick response unprecedented in recent history after ballots were mailed to registered voters a week ago.

Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs estimated Tuesday that the office had received by Monday about 10,000 ballots of the nearly 57,000 ballots mailed.

Of those, about 1,600 were delivered by the postal service while about 8,400 were from drop boxes, Riggs said.

By comparison, in the last presidential election in 2016, on the Monday after ballots were mailed, the Clallam County Auditor’s Office had received about 1,825 ballots in drop boxes.

“That’s over a 350-percent increase,” Riggs said.

In Jefferson County, Election Coordinator Quinn Grewell’s rough estimate of ballots received by Tuesday was about 7,000 collected from drop boxes or received through the mail. The office mailed 27,337 ballots last Wednesday.

“We literally spent all day Monday collecting ballots,” said Grewell, noting that staff collected ballots from drop boxes in Quilcene and Brinnon on Tuesday morning.

“As we’ve been clearing the drop boxes, we’ve seen cars lined up to deposit new ballots,” said Grewell, who has worked in Jefferson County’s Auditor’s Office since July 2019.

“I did hear a couple of times yesterday my staff saying, ‘This is incredible.’ ”

She said they had collected 28 trays worth of ballots as of Tuesday, and she said trays hold anywhere from 200 to 500 ballots, which is why her estimated total is “super rough.”

Neither Clallam County nor Jefferson County elections offices had begun processing ballots as of Tuesday, so the numbers reported are estimates of the number of ballots received, not the numbers accepted after signatures were checked.

Residents reported filled boxes at the Sequim drop boxes at the JCPenney parking lot as well as the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles over the weekend.

“It’s amazing the number of people dropping off their ballots this weekend,” Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said on Facebook on Saturday. “PENCOM has received countless calls about our ballot boxes filled to the brim.”

Riggs said she asked law enforcement officers to go to the full ballot boxes in order to direct people to other drop boxes they could use.

She said staff members already were collecting ballots from drop boxes on Saturday and Sunday, but now they are emptying them several times a day.

“To be clear, there are no problems happening, only an unexpected turnout to the boxes this soon in the election season,” Cameron said on Facebook.

“That’s a good thing. Exercising the right to vote is one of our most important rights, and we will help in ensuring that is preserved and the process is secure as much as we can.”

Riggs said that the state has done “an amazing job about getting out the message to vote safely and vote early.”

Ballots must be postmarked or placed in a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted.

But getting them in early allows auditors’ offices to process them and have more available to be counted on Election Day, Riggs said.

U.S. Postal Service representatives are encouraging voters who mail their ballots to do so at least one week (Oct. 27) before Election Day. Those returning their ballots less than a week before Election Day are encouraged to use an official ballot drop box.

A voter in Brinnon contacted Grewell on Monday to report receiving a ballot that was blank on one side.

“It was a misprint,” Grewell said. “It’s very rare that that happens. Our printer does have quality-control measures in place to prevent that kind of thing from happening.

“This is a very isolated incident. The voter called us, and we issued them a new ballot.”

One voter in Jefferson County and one in Clallam County have told the Peninsula Daily News that they had received two ballots.

Quinn said a voter could receive more than one ballot if the person had moved recently and updated the address on the voter registration form, or if the person recently got a new driver’s license or got married and changed their last name.

Once a completed ballot is received, that voter is designated as having voted. If the office receives another ballot from that voter, then the system will kick it out, according to Riggs and Grewell.

Grewell advised voters to not use a ballot if it was forwarded from a previous address.

“You will get a new ballot with an insert saying that something like, your address was changed on your registration and that this is the ballot you should use.”

More information is available at votewa.gov or at clallam.net/elections or co.jefferson.wa.us/182/Auditor.

To reach the Clallam County elections office, call 360-417-2222. Jefferson County elections can be reached at 360-385-9117.

________

Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson and Sequim Gazette Editor Michael Dashiell contributed to this story.

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