Ballot Blunderers

Thousands of King County ballots went uncounted in the primary. Learn from these voters' mistakes.

Planning to fill out that Nov. 2 election ballot you just received in the mail? Remember two things: Sign it, and mail back the envelope on time. Make that three: Don't forget to put the ballot in the envelope before you send it. Those were among the errors made by almost 15,000 King County voters in the August primary election, according to the county's post-election analysis. As usual, every vote counts, but not every vote could be counted, and once again the democratic process failed due mostly to procrastination. Of the 421,000 county voters (out of a million) who bothered to return their primary ballots, only 406,000 had their votes certified. The #1 cause for not being certified was not sending back the ballot by midnight of Election Day. Any dropped-off or mailed ballots not received or postmarked by that time cannot, by law, be counted. Exactly 8,800 county voters failed to meet that cutoff, and their ballots were tossed. Another 2,842 were not counted because voters forgot to put their signatures on the envelopes before returning them. The county also was unable to verify another 2,509 signatures. The Elections Department challenged 31 votes due to name changes, 27 for not having a signature on file, and 24 because the voter had moved. Another 21 voters apparently filled out the ballot and then sent in the envelope—without the ballot. Among voters who were sent ballots for the primary, 33 turned out to be dead. Typically, says elections spokesperson Kim van Ekstrom, that's discovered when a ballot is returned with a note by, say, a family member, informing the department of the voter's death. Despite the jokes about graveyards voting, it's rare that someone tries to vote by fraudulently signing a dead person's ballot—which would likely be discovered and discarded anyway by the county's signature-comparison procedure, which includes calling voters when signatures are questioned. But it is possible for the votes of dead people to be validated, van Ekstrom says. "If they sent in their ballot and then died" before the Election Day tabulation, "then yes, technically we could count the vote of a deceased person." Another reason to vote early, if not often.

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