King County's mail-in ballot envelopes no longer have flaps that cover voters' signatures, but officials say that won't compromise voters' privacy.

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King County’s mail-in ballot envelopes no longer have flaps that cover voters’ signatures, but officials say that won’t compromise voters’ privacy.

Next Tuesday’s primary is the first countywide vote-by-mail election in which voters are putting their ballots in return envelopes with their names, addresses and signatures visible on the outside.

Until this election, a paper tab — variously known as a secrecy, privacy or signature flap — covered voters’ signatures. Those signatures are compared by election workers with signatures on file to verify voters’ identity and eligibility to vote.

The Legislature, which in 2005 mandated use of the privacy flap, this year repealed that mandate after local election officials said the flaps added to the cost of elections while doing little to enhance voters’ privacy.

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The Washington Association of County Officials, which represents local election administrators, pushed for repeal of the flap requirement.

King County Elections spokeswoman Kim van Ekstrom said the county expects to save at least $150,000 a year it otherwise would have spent on more expensive envelopes and on hiring workers to remove the flaps so signatures could be verified.

The Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel expects to save $60,000 in envelope costs.

After voters put ballot return envelopes into the mail, the envelopes aren’t seen by anyone other than postal workers and election workers, van Ekstrom said. The envelope flaps weren’t needed to protect the secrecy of the ballot, she said, because ballots are placed in an inner unmarked security envelope that is opened only after it is separated from the outer envelope that has the voter’s name and signature.

Some voters — but not “a substantial number” — have called to ask about the elimination of the privacy flap, van Ekstrom said.

“The flap might have made you feel like you were more protected, but you weren’t really more protected than without it,” van Ekstrom said. ” … This is a time for our government to be really cost-conscious. Putting on that cover came at a pretty good price tag. At the same time you have to say what does it accomplish?”

She noted that voters’ signatures are public records that the Elections Division must disclose upon request.

Election officials expect 45 percent of King County’s 1 million voters to participate in the primary. About 198,000 ballots had been returned by Thursday.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or

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