Washington State has one of the oldest and most successful mail-based voting systems in the country. But in the final days before Tuesday’s election deadline, a small but steady number of Seattle voters are heading to a temporary polling center in Lumen Field to vote the old-fashioned way: in person.
The center, one of six in King County and dozens across the state, offers a physically staffed location where voters deal with late registrations, lost ballots and other issues that could otherwise prevent them from voting in an off-year election dominated by local races. – including high profile competitions for mayor, two council seats and a city attorney in Seattle.
“I procrastinated,” said Manny Garcia, a Seattle resident, who showed up at Lumen Field on Saturday to update his registration and vote.
“I tried to register by mail but sent it way too late,” echoed Rachel Wei, a recent transplant from Boston who was also at Lumen on Saturday.
Voting centers are rarely crowded: the central Lumen Field center expects fewer than 700 voters until Tuesday, and for much of Saturday voters were easily outnumbered by poll workers.
But the centers play a vital role as Washington heads towards its second general election in the pandemic era.
Although 99% of voters in Washington return the ballots by mail or drop boxes (including 74 in King County), all counties have at least one polling center to deal with issues such as last minute registrations and lost ballots and to allow voters to use assistive voting devices, said Kendall Hodson, chief of the King County elections chief of staff.
Voters who have an up-to-date registration but need a replacement ballot can also print one themselves, Kendall said.
King County officials are forecasting a turnout of around 46% this year, up from 86% in last year’s presidential election. “The general election following a presidential election is still the slowest in this four-year cycle,” said Leland Buchanan, customer service manager for King County Elections at the Lumen Field center.
Yet by Friday, King County had already received 16% of the ballots, which is “a bit ahead of projections,” Hodson said.
Seattle voters returned about 20% of their ballots by Friday, Hodson said. Attendance in Seattle tends to exceed that of the county as a whole, but open seats could also increase attendance this year, Hodson said.
King County election officials expect few problems this year, especially in relation to the 2020 election, which was fraught with anxiety over COVID-19 and fears over the integrity of the electoral system.
Last year, voters were so worried about the expected slowing of ballot deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service that 75% of voters in King County used a ballot box, up from 50% to 60%, Hodson said.
This year, she expects drop-box usage to fall back to normal rates, based on what voters did in the August primary.
As always, county employees will be on-site on Election Day to ensure drop boxes are closed by 8 p.m. (mailed ballots must be stamped by Tuesday.) Democratic party officials and Republican will be allowed to observe the drop boxes.
But the additional security King County deployed to several boxes last year will not be present this year, said Shawn Abernethy, head of King County administrative services. “I don’t think we’re doing it because there’s just a lot less tension than last year,” she said.
That said, county election officials still spent a fair amount of time this year “fighting disinformation and electoral conspiracy theories,” Hodson said. “It’s part of our world now. ”
Lumen Field and all other King County polling centers are open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, polling day.
How to find a polling center
In King County this year, voting centers are also located at Bellevue College, Kent Town Hall, Kenmore Town Hall, Federal Way Performing Arts & Event Center, and Election Headquarters. County to Renton. There are also student facilities at the Husky Union Building on the University of Washington Seattle campus and on the University of Washington Bothell campus.
Pierce County has one at the county constituency at 2501 S. 35th St., Suite C in Tacoma; hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Snohomish County polling stations are open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, polling day. Locations: County Auditor’s Office, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. to Everett; the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 16710 Smokey Point Blvd. in Arlington; and Alderwood Water & Wastewater District at 3626 156th St. SW in Lynnwood.