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Washington State: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

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Remember when Hilary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the presidential election? That was 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago... but, in our collective pandemic limbo, also sort of feels like yesterday. Back then, there was widespread consensus that the stakes could not have been higher. Now, in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on and the climate crisis becomes more dire by the day, the stakes do somehow seem even higher. 

In the spirit of upholding our democracy, it’s more important than ever to exercise your right to vote. And if you’re in Washington State, we’ve got you covered; read up on everything you need to know about casting your ballot in 2020 below.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Washington?

You can register to vote as late as Election Day on November 3 at your county elections office. But if you want to register to vote online or by mail, you'll need to do so by October 26.

How to register to vote in Washington

The easiest way to register to vote is online, but you can also do so by submitting a registration form in the mail. You can also register in person -- just show up at your county's voting center with a valid Washington state driver's license or ID by Election Day.

If you’re not sure whether or not you’re registered (or need to update your personal information), visit the Washington State Voter Portal.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Washington?

Yes!

Early voting starts on October 16 and runs through November 2, though it's worth pointing out that these dates and hours can vary from place to place throughout the sate. 

Can I vote by mail?

You bet. Washington is one of just a handful of states to conduct all elections entirely by mail, but it didn’t get there overnight -- this effort has been a work in progress since mail-in ballots were first made available in 1993. This means that the state sends every single voter an absentee ballot for every single election, so there’s no need to request one -- just keep an eye on your mailbox. It should arrive no less than 18 days before Election Day. If you have had to leave your home due to the wildfires or have moved for some other reason, the deadline to change your voting address is October 26.

It’s important to keep in mind that absentee ballots are verified by matching the signature on the ballot with what’s on file in the voter registration record. If the county decides your signature does not match the one on file, you will be notified the next business day, and a signature request form will be sent to your address. You must return this form before the election results are officially certified, which happens 1-3 weeks after Election Day, depending on the county -- otherwise your vote won’t be counted!

Which leads us to…

How do I vote by mail?

Once your absentee ballot arrives, take your time to review the ballot measures and candidates in the General Election Voters’ Pamphlet, which is mailed to every household in the state. You can return your ballot via USPS (no stamp required) or drop it off at an official ballot drop box. If you’re mailing it, keep in mind that it must be postmarked on or before Election Day. If you’re dropping it off, you can find a nearby drop box in King County, for example, using this map; these will be open 24 hours a day beginning on October 16 and will close on November 3 at 8pm.

Is there some way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

Yep -- every ballot comes with a QR code that you can use to track your ballot online here. You can also use this site to request a replacement ballot, but remember that only one ballot with your signature will be counted.

How can I stay safe while voting in-person?

Because almost all Washington voters vote by mail (97% did so in 2016), the demand for in-person voting centers is low; thus, there is only one open per county across the state (find yours on the Voter Portal). Voting centers are open during normal business hours for the entire voting period (for the general election, that’s October 16-November 3). 

If you do opt to vote in-person, staying safe looks much like it does in every other public place: wear a mask, stay six feet away from other voters, and wash your hands as soon as you leave the voting center. Ultimately though, this is an unnecessary risk, as Washington will mail you an absentee ballot straight to your home regardless of how you plan on voting. 

Additional Washington State voting resources 

Washington State has created a handful of useful online tools for voters in addition to the General Election Voters’ Pamphlet (which you’ll relieve in the mail): an Elections Calendar, a Voter Portal (use this to register, view your personalized Voter’s Guide, and track your ballot, amongst other things), and a Vote-By-Mail Fact Sheet. For specific candidates’ platforms, we recommend visiting their individual websites, or grabbing info from a news source that you trust. 

Ultimately, there is no shortage of information out there about how to vote and who to vote for; it’s up to you to do your research, cast your ballot, and make your voice heard come November.

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Emma Banks is a contributor for Thrillist.