Nearly half of the registered voters on the North Olympic Peninsula had returned their general election ballots to auditors’ offices by Thursday.
The Jefferson County election office had more than 13,500 ballots in safe storage on Thursday out of the 27,337 mailed on Oct. 15, while Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs reported that registered voters had returned just short of 28,000 ballots out of the 57,124 ballots mailed to voters.
Ballots for the presidential election, which has prompted a record early turnout already, must be postmarked or placed in drop boxes by 8 p.m. Nov. 3 to be counted.
Elections officials are now working through verifying signatures.
The number of ballots on-hand and the number considered “received” are different. Ballots have to have entered the signature-verification stage to be considered received, said Quinn Grewell, Jefferson County election coordinator.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Jefferson County had received 10,437 for a voter turnout of 38 percent, while Clallam County had received 18,418 ballots for a voter turnout of 32.2 percent, according to the Secretary of State website.
“Ballots are still coming in at a rapid pace. It takes a while to get them all through the system,” Riggs said earlier Thursday, adding she expected the office to be caught up by the end of the day.
Additional staff has been hired to help with signature verification, she said. And staff members are collecting ballots from drop boxes often — twice daily in Sequim and three times daily from the Clallam County Courthouse parking lot in Port Angeles.
The signature process in Jefferson is already more streamlined than previous years, as the county received an electric Mail Ballot Verifier — nicknamed Betty after recently retired long-time election administrator Betty Johnson — that scans the envelopes and uploads the image of them to the computer.
That allows election officials to easily cross-verify the signatures with the registered election signatures instead of doing it by hand as they have in the past.
The machine has increased ballot processing almost tenfold, Grewell said.
The large amount of ballot returns has caused Jefferson County to empty ballot boxes daily, with the entirety of Monday spent collecting ballots from the various boxes, Grewell said.
Voters have until Monday to change their registration online at VoteWa.gov, after which voter registration can only be updated in person at a county election office through 8 p.m. on election night Nov. 3, Grewell 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.
Voter turnout statewide was 33 percent as of Thursday, with 1,594,581 ballots reported received.
The early turnout in the presidential election comes after the vote-by-mail state saw its highest primary turnout in more than five decades, with 55 percent of registered voters participating in the August election, leading election officials to prepare for record turnout that could surpass the previous record of 84.6 percent in 2008.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman has said counties should be prepared for a potential turnout of up to 90 percent.
In addition to voting for president and weighing in on 10 congressional races, voters are also deciding on several statewide races, including governor and lieutenant governor, scores of legislative races and a ballot measure on sex education as well as local races and measures.
Voters can check the status of their ballots at VoteWa.gov.
Jefferson County elections can be reached at 360-385-9117.
To reach the Clallam County elections office, call 360-417-2222.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].