Stevens County election ballots to be mailed out Friday

RaeLynn Ricarte

Stevens County Auditor Lori Larsen, who oversees local elections, said ballots are being mailed out to voters early this year to address concerns brought by speculation that there could be problems getting returns through the U.S. Postal Service.

“We have full confidence in the post office to handle Washington’s elections, but we know that citizens are concerned that they will be overwhelmed,” said Larson.

For that reason, ballots will be sent out to registered voters on Friday, Oct. 9, which is about a week earlier than in some locations of the state, said Larsen. As of Monday, there were 33,098 local voters on the rolls, although the count is expected to rise with nearly a month left until the Nov. 3 general election.

Larsen said mailing ballots out early was seen in Stevens, Spokane and other counties as preferable to setting up more drop sites that require monitoring.

People can, as usual, drop ballots at Lake Spokane Elementary School and the Loon Lake Fire Station on the south end of the county. Ballots can also be left at the United Church of Christ in Chewelah, a central location, or at the county courthouse to the north. Ballots can also be mailed, but must be postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted. Larsen said Washington has been a vote-by-mail-only state since 2005, so officials have enacted strong security measures over the years.

“We have really solid procedures in place,” she said.

For example, each ballot is imprinted with a bar code that does not reveal the identity of the voter, but does authenticate it as an original. In addition, every voter can verify that his or her ballot has been returned at People only have to type in their name and birth date to check the status, said Larsen. If a ballot does not show up on the site within a week of being mailed or dropped off, Larsen said the voter can request a new ballot. However, if the old and new ones both arrive in her office, only one will be counted. The other will show up on the site with a “suspended” status.

It usually doesn’t take a week to get a ballot posted as “returned,” but Larsen said people are asked to wait out a week.

“We like to allow for a little time each way,” she said.

Every election cycle, Larsen said there are signatures that don’t match registrations, which need to be verified, so the count can go on for days after the actual election. Typically, the return rate of ballots that are counted will be much lower on election day than at the next count a few days later, she said. People are allowed to register to vote in Washington and then receive a ballot until 8 p.m. on election night. However, they must do so in person after the online registration period ends Oct. 26.

“We are really encouraging people to register online or by mail this year because of the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

If people do want to register in person they are asked make an appointment, 509-684-7511, at the auditor’s office, which is located in the courthouse, but closed to the public due to the current health crisis. Larsen said everyone in her office has cross trained to be able to provide backup on all aspects of the elections process in case of illness or a backlog.