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Using your right to vote: Important information from the League of Women Voters

Posted on July 20, 2020 at 6:00 am

Guest blog by Beth Pellicciotti

At the League of Women Voters’ National Convention this past month, Virginia Kase, the CEO of the national League, reminded us that at the height of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, women continued their fight for the right to vote. Their work was not in vain. In 1920, the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified.

As Spokane League members do voter outreach in this time of COVID-19, I am conscious of this League legacy. As a writer, my contribution to this outreach effort is this blog post, designed to help you get ready for the August 4 primary election and the November 3 general election.

Through the device you are using to read this blog, you can check your voter registration status, find candidate information, and even track your ballot once you vote.

ARE YOU ELIGIBLE TO VOTE? 

In the United States, you have to be a citizen and at least 18 years old by Election Day for Voter Eligibility. In Washington, if you are a 16- or 17-year-old citizen, you can pre-register to vote. When you turn 18, you will receive a ballot for elections (Future Voters). 

Brand new citizens who have just taken the Oath of Citizenship at naturalization ceremonies are eligible to register to vote.

If you have a previous felony conviction, you are eligible to vote.

And if you are experiencing homelessness, you are eligible to vote.

Learn more about Voter Eligibility.

“We vote, and then we follow the results of our voting. At that moment of voting and then watching the results, we are participating in our democracy.” 

SIGN UP! 

In Washington, voter registration takes two forms. The easiest is by registering online at VoteWa.gov.

At VoteWa.gov, you will need a Washington State Driver’s License or Washington State ID. The Division of Licensing has just re-opened by appointment (Division of Licensing) for those needing a license or ID.

If you don’t have either a license or ID, you can complete a voter registration form using the last four digits of your Social Security number to register. You can get Voter Registration Forms online to print.

The signature on the voter registration form must match your signature on your completed ballot.

When Spokane League members visit high school civics classes, we encourage future voters to make sure they are consistent in signing this registration form, and that their signature matches all future ballots. Sometimes young people try out different signatures (my daughter did), but signing this registration form is their “moment of truth” in establishing a forever signature.

HOW WILL YOU GET YOUR BALLOT?

Residential addresses: Your residential address determines what races and issues appear on your ballot. For example, if you live in Spokane Valley, you will not be able to vote for the mayor of the City of Spokane. 

Your residential address is generally where you live. It is usually where you sleep. However, for some, it may be the place you consider “home.” An example is a college student who use their parents’ address as their residential address, but their mailing address is at their university. A person who is homeless can select the address of a public building that is in the area that they consider “home.”

Mailing addresses: For Washington’s mail-in ballot system, your mailing address is critical to receiving the ballot. If your mailing address is different than your residential address, both the voter registration form and VoteWa.gov provide specific fields for your mailing address. 

Although the ballot does forward to a new address, voters need to ensure their mailing address is current. Voters who move frequently include those serving in the military (learn more about military voters), college students, and those experiencing homelessness, and all should verify that their address is correct by visiting VoteWa.gov.

If you have a temporary home, you can enter a “seasonal address” at VoteWa.gov or a “mailing address” on the voter registration form (Voter Registration Forms). 

Retirees who spend part of the year in another location (“snowbirds”) should use the seasonal address feature to ensure that they receive their ballots no matter where they are. 

College students planning to live on campus might list their Spokane residential address when they register to vote but give their dorm address as the seasonal address to receive their ballot (even if out of state). Students’ families should not complete students’ ballots and sign for them. This is serious violation of state law.

VoteWa.gov lets you update your addresses for both residential and mailing purposes.

I encourage you to take 10 seconds right now to check your address at VoteWa.gov. If your address is not current, you can correct it. Or if you prefer, you can call to update your address with Spokane County Elections Office at 509.477.2320.

YOU HAVE YOUR BALLOT. NOW WHAT? 

If you are 18 by the next election, have registered to vote, and have your correct address in the voter registration system, you will receive a ballot approximately 15 days before the election date. You can see a sample ballot primary 2020.

Upon receiving the ballot, experienced voters might immediately look up the Voters’ Guide (VoteWa.gov), which contains candidate and other information specific to their voting district.

If you’re a first-time voter or overwhelmed by the ballot, you might put the ballot aside. Consider this before you do: When we meet with high school seniors (future voters), Spokane League members recommend that new voters pick at least one race or initiative or referendum which interests them and vote.

The ballot is not an SAT exam. You don’t need to fill in all the blanks.

Voting is a habit, a good habit.

We vote, and then we follow the results of our voting. At that moment of voting and then watching the results, we are participating in our democracy. A ballot sitting on a table unmarked and waiting to be completely and thoroughly studied but eventually never mailed is an opportunity lost, both for a new voter and for any of us.

WHERE CAN I GET INFORMATION ON RACES? 

The Washington Secretary of State publishes candidates’ statements in the Voters’ Guide (VoteWa.gov), as does the Spokane County Elections Office in their Voters’ Guide.

The League of Women Voters publishes the Vote 411 website, in which local and state candidates answer objective questions.

Both the Spokane League and the Washington State League hold candidate forums. This election cycle, all Spokane League candidate forums are recorded and available for viewing on our website. Candidate forum questions are objective and give candidates a chance to explain more fully their positions on different issues. 

WHY SO MANY CANDIDATES IN THIS PRIMARY? 

The Presidential Primary ballot, on March 10, 2020, required voters to declare either the Democratic or Republican party on the ballot envelope.

The upcoming August 4 primary is different. You will receive a ballot with local and state candidates, according to where you live and you will not have to declare a party.

When you receive your primary ballot, you will see many candidates for several of the state positions. In the time of the pandemic, the Washington Secretary of State waived the requirement for signatures on a petition for getting on the ballot and the filing fee, and many candidates then filed to run for office.

WHY ARE PRIMARY ELECTIONS CRITICAL? 

In Washington, less than 30 percent of registered voters participated in the 2019 primary election. This low percentage of voters determined which candidates advanced to two-person races in the general election.

We tell students, “If you vote in the general election and don’t like either candidate, then you need to vote in the primary next time. It is that important!”

The League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area (LWVSA) publishes a list of all national, state, and local officials with the date of the next election for that position in the brochure They Represent You.  

This compact guide provides voter registration information, key phone numbers, and websites for more information. Candidate information for state and local races is available on the Secretary of State’s Voters’ Guide web page for the 2020 primary and at the League of Women Voters United States (LWVUS) website, Vote 411.

WHAT ABOUT TIMING? 

There is an old expression that “Timing is everything.” So it is with elections. 

Complete your ballot as soon as possible, sign it, and drop it in the mail (the ballot is postage paid) or in a ballot box (Ballot Drop Box Locations).

You can even track it on VoteWa.gov, just like you would for a package with a postal service, and know that it has been received and counted.

Here is advice from Vicky Dalton, Director of County Elections, “If you must wait, use a ballot box to drop off your ballot. In the time of the pandemic, do not deluge U.S. Mail system at the last moment.” 

If you use the mail, know that your ballot has to be postmarked by 8:00pm on the day of the election. The primary election is August 4, and the general election is November 3.

DOES MY VOTE REALLY COUNT? REALLY? 

In addition to telling ourselves that primaries don’t matter or that the ballot is overwhelming, we might also assume that our one vote doesn’t matter. 

Below is the picture we show future voters of a recent Spokane County race determined by a game of chance because several people in that district did not vote and the race was tied.

To break a 78-78 tie between two Fairfield Town Council candidates, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton used two balls, each marked with a number assigned to a candidate. They were placed in a small milk bottle and then shaken. The ball that came out first marked candidate Steven Walk, on left, the winner over challenger Dave Watling, Mon., Dec. 9, 2019, at the Spokane County Elections Office. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
To break a 78-78 tie between two Fairfield Town Council candidates, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton used two balls, each marked with a number assigned to a candidate. They were placed in a small milk bottle and then shaken. The ball that came out first marked candidate Steven Walk, on left, the winner over challenger Dave Watling, Mon., Dec. 9, 2019, at the Spokane County Elections Office.
(Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Remember: voting is a habit, a good habit. If you want to see evidence of your good habit, check VoteWa.gov to view all the elections in which you participated. Then be ready for the next election.

CONTACT INFORMATION & TIMELINES

If you have questions or need more information, you can contact the Spokane County Elections office:

Below are timelines for the upcoming Primary and General Election Cycles in 2020, both from the website of the Washington Secretary of State

Beth Pellicciotti

Beth Pellicciotti, of the League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area, is pictured volunteering at an in-person voter registration event in February 2020 at Whitworth University.

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