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County ‘vote centers’ open for last-minute ballot issues

People walk near a sign at the King County election headquarters in Renton, Wash., Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press
People walk near a sign at the King County election headquarters in Renton, Wash., Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

Washington voters have been casting their ballots entirely by mail since 2011. But two years ago, state legislators started requiring in-person vote centers, to respond to voter’s needs in the final days before the election. They open Saturday.  

Every county has to have at least one vote center — and at least one in every city with a population of 100,000 or more. It's where voters can get help with last-minute registrations, replacement ballots and assisted voting.

King County has six vote centers this election — two more than required. They’re in Seattle, Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Kenmore and Federal Way. And this year, they’re all in big, event-center-type spaces, to allow more room for social distancing. Masks are required and will be offered to people who arrive without them.

Halei Watkins, a spokesperson with King County Elections, says they expect a high volume of voters in the coming days.  

If you do need to come to us in person, please try to do so over the weekend or on Monday if possible,” she said. “We do expect long lines on Tuesday and waiting until 6 p.m. on Tuesday night, you are guaranteed to wait in line.”

This year, Watkins says, the elections office also has been hearing from people who have decided to wait and cast their ballot in person, because of rumors about problems with mail-in voting.  

"Our message to those voters is that there are no voting machines, there are no voting booths. There is not an in-person voting experience like you used to have before vote by mail,” she said. “If you come to a vote center in person to vote, you're getting issued the same exact ballot paper ballot that was mailed to your house. You're filling it out and you're dropping it into a drop box on site.”  

So she says, if you have a ballot, you might as well fill it out at home and take it to a drop box.

Snohomish County has four vote center locations (two in Everett, one in Lynnwood and one in Arlington.) Pierce has only one, at elections headquarters in Tacoma.

Vote centers will be open Saturday from 10 to 4, Monday from 8:30 to 6 and on Election Day from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In King County, Watkins says anyone who is in line by closing time will be served.

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