After the year you’ve had, King County voter, do you need some spice in your life? Well, if you’d like, go ahead and take a step on the wild side and mark that election ballot with a pink sparkly pen.

That’s right, gone are the bad old days when the muckety-mucks over at King County Elections Department printed out ballots instructing you to fill out your election ballots in blue or black ink, giving you flashbacks to some horrid and surely embarrassing grade-school test experience.

That’s because the tabulation equipment acquired by the department in 2017 is more versatile, according to Kendall LeVan Hodson, chief of staff to Elections Director Julie Wise.

“We’d of course still count the ballots if they didn’t use blue or black ink, it just typically required that they be duplicated, which was time consuming and costly,” LeVan Hodson wrote in an email. “The new tabulation system we put in in 2017 reads almost anything, so — after testing that out a little bit — we decided to remove that (use blue or black ink only) on the instructions.”

That’s why in 2018, the instructions calling for blue or black ink were nixed, she added.

“Voters can use ANY color of ink that they like – blue, black, green highlighter, pink sparkly pen — we’ll get it counted,” wrote LeVan Hodson.


So if you’re sitting there right now in Seattle or Tukwila with some pandemic-stash of crazy pens, I guess this is your moment. (If you haven’t already mailed your ballot in super early, as many of your neighbors have.)

But not every county — looking at you, Snohomish County — wants to be graced by your extensive collection of tangerine- or lime-green-inked writing utensils.

“We do ask voters to use blue or black ink for the simple reason that it tends to make a darker mark and aids in our visual inspection of ballots,” wrote Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell.

But “the system will pick up a variety of ink colors and we will accept any ink … used,” added Fell.

Election officials in each county have their own ballot-processing equipment with slightly different capabilities in this very niche area.

Tabulation machines with optical-scan systems sometimes have had trouble picking up red ink, said Secretary of State Kim Wyman. She urged voters to read their ballot instructions carefully — and to follow them.

So if you’re outside King County, you might just want to stick with black or blue ink when you fill in those bubbles.

After all, in an election marked by foreign interference, questions about timely mail delivery, rampant misinformation, as well as fears of voter intimidation, do you really want to risk your zesty lavender ink being the final straw that broke the back of democracy?