Washington state has one of the nation’s oldest and most successful vote-by-mail systems. But in the final days before Tuesday’s election deadline, a small but steady number of voters in Seattle are making the trip to a temporary voting center at Lumen Field to cast ballots the old-fashioned way: In person.
The center, one of six in King County and dozens across the state, offers a staffed, physical location where voters deal with late registration, lost ballots and other snags that might otherwise keep them from voting in an off-year election dominated by local races — including high-profile contests for mayor, two council seats and city attorney in Seattle.
“I procrastinated,” said Seattle resident Manny Garcia, who showed up Saturday at Lumen Field to update his registration and cast his ballot.
“I tried registering by mail but I sent it in far too late,” echoed Rachel Wei, a recent transplant from Boston who was also at Lumen on Saturday.
Voting centers are rarely crowded: The center at Lumen Field center expects fewer than 700 voters through Tuesday, and for much of Saturday, voters were easily outnumbered by election staff.
But the centers play a critical role as Washington heads toward its second general election of the pandemic era.
Although 99% of Washington voters return ballots by mail or at drop boxes (including 74 in King County), all counties operate at least one voting center to deal with such issues as last-minute registrations and lost ballots and to allow voters to use assistive voting devices, said Kendall Hodson, King County Elections chief of staff.
Voters who have up-to-date registration but need a replacement ballot also can print one themselves, Kendall said.
King County officials anticipate voter turnout of around 46% this year compared to 86% during last year’s presidential contest. “The general election that follows a presidential is always the slowest of that four-year cycle,” said Leland Buchanan, the King County Elections customer service lead at the Lumen Field center.
Still, as of Friday, King County had already received 16% of ballots, which is “a little ahead of projections,” said Hodson.
Seattle voters had returned around 20% of their ballots as of Friday, Hodson said. Seattle turnout tends to outpace the county as a whole, but the open seats also could be boosting turnout this year, Hodson said.
King County election officials are expecting few problems this year, especially in comparison to the 2020 election, which was fraught with anxiety over COVID-19 and fears about the integrity of the election system.
Voters last year were so worried about an anticipated slowdown in ballot deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service that 75% of King County voters used a ballot drop box, up from the usual 50% to 60%, Hodson said.
This year, she expects the drop box use to fall back to normal rates, based on what voters did in the August primary.
As always, county employees will be on hand on Election Day to ensure that drop boxes are closed by 8 p.m. (Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday.) Officials from the Democratic and Republican parties will be allowed to observe at drop boxes.
But the extra security King County deployed at several boxes last year won’t be present this year, said Shawn Abernethy, King County administrative services manager. “I don’t think that we’re doing that because there’s just much less tension than there was last year,” she said.
That said, county election officials have still spent a fair amount of time this year “combating misinformation and election conspiracy theories,” Hodson said. “That is part of our world now.”
Lumen Field and all other King County voting centers are open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Election Day.
How to find a voting center
In King County this year, voting centers can also be found at Bellevue College, Kent City Hall, Kenmore City Hall, the Federal Way Performing Arts & Event Center, and county elections headquarters in Renton. There are also student facilities at Husky Union Building on the University of Washington Seattle campus and at the University of Washington Bothell campus.
Pierce County has one at the county election center at 2501 S. 35th St., Suite C in Tacoma; hours are 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Snohomish County voting centers are open are open 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday and 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Election Day. Locations: County auditor’s office, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett; the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 16710 Smokey Point Blvd. in Arlington; and at Alderwood Water & Wastewater District at 3626 156th St. S.W. in Lynnwood.