By Paul Gottlieb and The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — In a decision that brings high-population areas in line with rural regions such as Clallam and Jefferson counties, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman has ordered all county officials to use First Class mail at least 15 days before Election Day when sending ballots to voters in October.
Wyman, a Republican, announced Wednesday that she was working in coordination with the state’s 39 county election officials on the emergency rule change.
Her action follows a national outcry over service changes at the U.S. Postal Service that were announced — and then halted — by President Donald Trump’s new postmaster general that sparked state lawsuits over concerns of a disruption to the November election.
By law, ballots must be sent to voters no later than Oct. 16, with the initial mailing sent at a nonprofit bulk rate, which guarantees a delivery time between three and 10 days.
Under the new rule, at least 15 days prior to the election, any replacement ballots or ballots for newly registered voters would be mailed with First Class postage, with a delivery window between two and five days.
“Closer to Election Day, many counties throughout Washington already switch over to First Class mail to ensure voters receive materials with enough time to cast their ballots,” Wyman said in a written statement.
“This will provide more consistency statewide and give voters some peace of mind heading into the Nov. 3 General Election.”
Clallam and Jefferson counties are among those that use First Class mail for ballots after most ballots are bulk-processed in the initial mailing to voters.
The bulk mailing in the two counties occurs Oct. 14, or 20 days before the Nov. 3 general election.
Voters who haven’t received ballots or need replacement ballots can request them up to Election Day, Nov. 3.
“All ballots after the initial drop are First Class,” Clallam County elections coordinator Susan Johnson said.
As of Wednesday, there were 54,751 registered voters in Clallam County and 26,506 in Jefferson County, according to the elections websites in each county.
The new rule mainly affects larger counties that were eligible for bulk-mail rates for higher-volume mailings after they conduct their initial mailings, said Damon Townsend, Clallam County elections manager.
Bulk mailing is about one-third the cost of First Class, he added.
About $6,000 to $7,000 will be spent on postage for bulk-mailing ballots in Clallam County, Auditor Shoona Riggs said.
About $2,900 will be spent in Jefferson County for bulk mailing, Elections Coordinator Quinn Grewell said.
Districts with elections on the ballots cover their own election costs.
The state of Washington pays the First Class postage for ballots that are mailed back, but Grewell urged voters to use county drop boxes to submit their ballot.
Ballot mail-back costs will be borne by counties beginning in July 2021.
“Because there’s so much of a worry now, anyone who is worried should use a ballot drop-off because it’s directly received by election officials,” Grewell said.
Additionally, Grewell said, voters can check the status of their ballots — when they have been received and when they have been checked into the counties’ tallying systems — by going to voter.votewa.gov.
“A lot of people have been calling with a lot of questions,” she added.
Out-of-state voters are mailed ballots with First Class postage.
Return envelopes included in the ballot packets sent to voters contain prepaid First Class postage and must be postmarked no later than Election Day.
Voters also can drop their ballots in drop boxes across the state.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].