OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee’s office will let Washington’s April 28 special election proceed despite worries among county election officials about safely administering and counting ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those concerns earlier this month led Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Washington’s county auditors to write a letter to Inslee requesting the election be canceled.
The April elections are not considered a high-profile affair. Only 18 of Washington’s counties are scheduled to have issues on the ballot. Those elections don’t involve any candidates running for office, but present proposed bonds and levies to voters.
Washington’s vote-by-mail system limits the contact voters have, compared with other places – think long lines at polling places in other states.
As the governor’s office considered the issue, some counties had already begun scheduling and spending funds for their elections, said Inslee chief of staff David Postman on Friday. Meanwhile, some local officials already have canceled their elections, meaning there won’t be too many taking place.
“Rather than postponing the special April elections, we are working with Secretary Wyman on what could be done to help auditors manage elections during the outbreak, for April and later in the year,” Postman wrote.
Wyman on Friday afternoon said she was disappointed by the governor’s decision but that her office will work with the counties to make sure they can take proper measures.
“It’s frustrating because the (county) auditors are just between a rock and a hard place,” she said, adding later: “I’m disappointed.”
King County will not be participating in the April elections, according to the county’s elections office. But some county officials remain concerned voters coming into elections offices or elections workers bunched together could spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“It’s really important to us not to have to be open to the public,” said Mason County Auditor Paddy McGuire. “And I think it sends the wrong message.”
McGuire is one of the county auditors who has been informed the elections will proceed.
“I have a three-person elections staff, and if my elections supervisor got sick, I’m not sure I can process and do everything we need to do to get the election done,” he said.
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey and Garfield County Auditor Donna Deal also said they’ve been notified the election would go forward. All three auditors had signed Wyman’s letter asking for the election to be canceled.
Some steps in Washington’s voting process require two elections staffers to work together, such as for verifying the signatures of voters before ballots are counted, according to Deal.
Now, Deal said she’ll have to find ways to keep those elections workers at least 6 feet apart while they work.
“I have lots of concerns,” said Deal, whose April ballot has a hospital levy most voters will decide upon. “But that’s just how it is.”
Kimsey said Clark County has only a small number of voters participating in a school district issue on the ballot.
“However, we continue to be concerned about keeping our staff healthy and minimizing their interaction with the public,” he said.