SO THAT'S WHERE IT WENT

Some people have wondered what happened to the ballot box that used to be in the county courthouse parking lot, now that construction on the new county office building has displaced it. Answer: it and the mail box moved across the street, shown here, on the east side of Columbus Avenue a block before the intersection with Main Street.

You’re going to get a ballot soon. Use your power. Darken some squares. Return it. What’s it take, five minutes? If you’ve ever wondered if you can make a difference in the world, voting is one clear answer. And here in Klickitat County, the office that helps you make that difference is ready to go.

Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen says her team is ready for Election Day—though she hopes most of the ballots don’t come in that day. Vote as early as possible, she suggests, though not so early that you don’t leave some time to change your mind on candidates, if you think that’s possible.

“We’re a small county, not in size but in population,” Sorensen says. “We don’t have a huge staff. In 2016 a great portion of the voting ballots arrived in the last few days, and people were disgruntled when they went out on to VoteWa [a website where you check your voting information], and they couldn’t see that their ballot had been checked in, even though they were in the queue.”

Another major bit of advice Sorensen offers: “If people wait until Election Day to vote, I would encourage them to walk into the post office retail lobby and ask that their ballot be hand stamped,” she states. This is huge; if you don’t do this, you risk not having your ballot accepted. “In the rural areas,” Sorensen explains, “the mail is distributed to the postal hubs at different times of the day.” Goldendale mail, for example, has to go to Portland before it’s delivered back elsewhere, or even back in Goldendale. “If that truck has left,” Sorensen says, “whatever comes in gets postmarked the next business day.” That means your ballot would miss the deadline for voting.

Sorensen speaks about the voting process here in the county, in a state where mail-in voting is well established and a fairly well-oiled machine. There are some misconceptions about the ballots, though; one is, the ballots are all mailed at the same time statewide. But the Auditor’s Office isn’t the entity that takes the ballots over and drops them in the mail, and what can be assured is not so much a mailing date as a final date when all the ballots have to be mailed. That date is Oct. 16. That’s the day the election period begins, running up to Nov. 3 by 8 p.m. Some ballots are already sent out to meet the requirements of the Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act, which states those ballots must go out at least 45 days before this election.

Any voter can go online and enter their personal information to obtain everything needed to vote. The site is VoteWa.gov. Once there, you enter your name and date of birth, and up pops a wealth of information: links to a Voters Guide, Voting Centers (the locations of every ballot drop box in the county), a ballot that you can print from the site if you don’t get yours in the mail or if it’s lost or damaged, the status of your ballot once ballot processing is underway, a place to register or check your registration information if you’re already registered, current elected officials, who filed to run for offices, and your voting history.

Sorensen foresees no issues with ballots such as have been bandied about on the national level of late, with doubt cast in some quarters about the potential for fraud. “I’m proud of the State of Washington and how all of us are on the same page,” she says, referring to the county auditors and the Secretary of State’s office. “We all follow the same rules. We all communicate well, the Secretary of State and the auditors.” Sorensen points to the well-established procedures for voting security in the state. “We have a mandated election administrator certification program; you’re required to have at least two people in your office certified. We have four more than that. There are state policies and procedures. We have reviews; every county also has their own policies and procedures. So we’re all on the same page. We try to make everything as uniform as possible from county to county.”

The election will be certified in the county by the county canvasing board on Nov. 24. The canvassing board meeting be on the 17th, and it will review any ballot envelopes that came in with mismatched signatures or are unsigned. “Of course all those voters receive letters,” Sorensen says, “which have to be in our office by five o’clock on the 23rd.”

This election may be unusually momentous, on both local and national levels. You really can make a difference.