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What You Need To Know: Ballot-Counting Basics For Wash. State Voters

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
FILE - A stack of mailed-in ballots is shown in a sorting machine at King County's ballot processing facility.

The campaigns are winding down. The ballot counting is about to begin. But in Washington state, we may not know the results of close races until later this week.

In Washington, an all vote-by-mail state, ballots don’t have to be in on Election Day; they just have to be postmarked or placed in a drop box by 8 p.m. That means valid ballots continue to arrive in the days after the election.

Also, Washington’s 39 counties will only report one set of returns on election night. The ballots that make it into that first count are the ones that arrived early enough that election workers could verify the voter’s signature and prep the ballot for the counting machine.

The general rule of thumb in Washington is election night results capture about half, maybe 60 percent of the ballots that will ultimately be tallied. Officials with Washington’s secretary of state’s office say early ballot returns suggest a lower-than-expected turnout for this midterm election.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.