Vote early and vote absentee are the two main requests local elections officials have for people intending to cast ballots in this year’s November general election.
“Vote early, vote early, vote early,” said Whitman County Auditor Sandy Jamison. “If you think you need to register, do it now. And once you get your ballot, please don’t sit on it for two weeks.”
Nez Perce County Auditor-Recorder Patty O. Weeks echoed those comments, adding an extra plea for people to vote absentee.
“Skip the lines (at polling locations on Election Day),” Weeks said. “And there will be lines. We’re going to have 80 percent turnout, and it’s a two-page ballot.”
Besides being a presidential election year, the Nov. 3 ballots will include congressional and state legislative races in both Idaho and Washington, as well as some county races. In Washington, all statewide elected offices are up also for grabs.
Idaho gives voters three options for casting ballots: absentee, early voting and in-person voting on Election Day.
In Washington, it’s all vote by mail, although some people choose to bring their ballots to the county elections offices and cast them there. However, “we’re discouraging that this year,” Jamison said, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Idaho: People can register online, by mail or in person at the county elections office. The deadline is Oct. 9.
Residents can visit www.idahovotes.gov to register online, or to check whether they are registered at their current address.
For people who have never registered to vote, or who need to update their registration, in-person registration is also available on Election Day. Voters must provide a valid photo ID and proof of address.
Latah County Auditor Henrianne Westberg said people can also register and vote during the early voting period. However, “you have to be ready to vote” right then, she said. You can’t register and then come back at another time.
Washington: The deadline for online or mail registration is Oct. 26. After that, people can visit the county elections office during regular business hours to register in person; in Whitman County, the Washington State University Student Engagement Center will also be registering voters at the Compton Union Building Junior Ballroom.
On election night, in-person registration is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“But we certainly prefer that people register online,” Jamison said. “It makes it so much easier on the whole system.”
People can register online at www.votewa.gov.
Voting in Idaho
Absentee ballot: Anyone who wants to vote absentee must request an absentee ballot. This can be done online, by mail or in person at the county elections office.
Request forms must be received by the county clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.
People can visit www.idahovotes.gov to request an absentee ballot online. Request forms are also available from the county clerk’s office. Latah and Nez Perce counties plan to mail request forms to all registered voters who haven’t already submitted one.
Anyone who doesn’t have a request form can still request an absentee ballot by sending a signed letter to the county clerk, including their name, address and the address where they’d like the ballot mailed.
“The biggest problem we had with absentee requests (during the May primary election) was that people forgot to sign the letter,” Weeks said. “It has to be signed.”
Weeks said her office is trying to process all absentee ballots requests within a day. However, if they’re inundated with requests, it could take a few days.
The idahovotes.gov website allows voters to track the status of their absentee ballot request.
The returned ballots must be received at the county clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on election night or they won’t be counted. People should allow at least a few days lead time if returning them by mail; they can also be dropped off in person.
Early voting: This allows voters to cast ballots at the county elections office during regular business hours, before Election Day.
Days and hours for early voting vary by county.
Clearwater County — Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Oct. 19-30.
Idaho County — Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Sept. 28 through Oct. 30.
“We’ll be trying to practice social distancing,” said Idaho County Auditor Kathy Ackerman. “We’re still working on finalizing that plan, but if you do come, you should expect to social distance and may need to wait.”
Latah County — Westberg said she hopes to start early voting on Oct. 13, if the ballots are available. Voting will run through Oct 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Early voting will also be available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 17 and Oct. 24.
Lewis County — The county technically doesn’t offer early voting, but does provide in-person absentee voting at the clerk’s office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, from Sept. 18 through Oct. 30.
Nez Perce County — Monday through Friday, Oct. 1 through Oct. 30. Depending on demand, voting may be available on Saturday and/or Sunday as well.
In-person voting on Election Day: Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; face masks and/or social distancing will be required.
Elections officials in Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties expect all their normal polling locations to be available.
In Nez Perce County, the Lapwai and Webb precincts will vote at the Lapwai High School gym, to accommodate social distancing requirements. All other polling stations should be the same as past elections.
Latah County has combined or changed some polling locations, because of potential coronavirus-related lack of poll workers. The elections office is mailing letters to registered voters telling them where their polling location is, and including an absentee ballot request form.
Voting in Washington
Ballots will be mailed to voters on Oct. 16. Jamison said if a week goes by and someone hasn’t received a ballot, they should contact the elections office.
If they wait longer than that, she said, “it makes it very difficult to get a replacement ballot to them and have it returned in a timely manner.”
Return ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted. They can also be dropped off in person at the county elections office or in local ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m.
“I encourage people to use the mail,” Jamison said. “I find it secure. But you need to look at the last pickup time.”
For example, if the last pickup at a particular mailbox is 4 p.m., and someone drops their ballot in at 4:30 on Election Day, it won’t get postmarked until the next day.
Most county elections websites have links for people to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot.
Voter registration materials for Idaho and Washington are also available at the Lewiston City Library, 411 D St., provided by the League of Women Voters.
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