The frustrating work of counting ballots

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Charles H. Featherstone/The Columbia Basin Herald Grant County Commission Chair Cindy Carter and Grant County civil attorney Jim Mitchell examine ballots from the Nov. 8 general election.

MOSES LAKE — One hundred and fourteen.

That’s the number of ballots Grant County Auditor Michelle Jaderlund says arrived at her office postmarked Nov. 8 or later — too late to be counted for this year’s election.

“These guys could have made a difference,” Jaderlund said as she examined and then signed ballot envelopes.

Jaderlund, along with County Commission Chair Cindy Carter, chief Grant County civil attorney Jim Mitchell, and Election Administrator Trisha Gibb, spent about a half-hour canvassing ballots in the recent Nov. 7 general election.

The election will not be certified until next week, however.

In a close Moses Lake School Board race, Elliott Goodrich picked up two more votes since the last count and is leading by 23 votes against incumbent Kevin Donovan.

According to the Grant County Auditor’s website, 13,145 votes so far been counted, with 40 remaining to be counted. Washington state law requires that for ballots to be counted, they must be postmarked by the day of the election.

Which means, in many instances, that Grant County voters must have their ballots at the post office the day before the election. Mail at most post offices in the Columbia Basin is transferred elsewhere — Spokane, Wenatchee, the Tri-Cities — before it is marked and sorted and sent on its way.

Hence a Moses Lake ballot goes to Spokane before it gets to the county courthouse in Ephrata — a trip that can take several days.

“See how sad this is,” Carter said as she signed ballot envelopes that would never be opened. “People take the time to vote, and most of these ballots are postmarked Nov. 8.”

Carter, who lives in Royal City, made a special effort this year to let Royal City residents know about the slow mails, to either get them to the county’s ballot box at the fire house there or walk into the post office and get their ballots postmarked by hand.

“They don’t stamp mail in Royal City anymore; you have to go to a window. Otherwise, it’s not stamped until it gets to Spokane,” Carter said.

Ernie Swanson, a communications specialist with the US Postal Service in Seattle, said that post offices like Royal City and even Moses Lake haven’t postmarked their mail for a number of years now.

“I’m not aware of any problems,” Swanson said. “We take ballots with extreme caution and care and it’s a major consideration to get them processed in a timely manner.”

Every election, the county puts up several drive-up ballot drop-off boxes — outside the county courthouse in Ephrata, at the Public Utility District office in Grand Coulee, the Moses Lake City Hall, county Fire Station 10 in Royal City and the Quincy Public Library.

While election officials will sometimes wrangle over a voter’s intent when a ballot isn’t properly marked, state law is clear — they don’t get to assume that 100 ballots from Moses Lake postmarked the day after were actually at the post office on time.

“It’s frustrating,” Carter said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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