My roommates and I parted ways when we moved out of our place at the beginning of this month. Along with all the chaos of moving, we had to update our voter registration. In Washington, you can do that online, by mail, or by email. Though we each submitted our address changes weeks ago, they haven't been updated yet.
Paid for by Committee to Reelect Judge North, P.O. Box 27113, Seattle, WA 98165
Nicole, a (former) roommate who is very organized and very anxious, called me twice this morning. She had updated her address online in the first week of September, and the change was still pending. Did I know what was wrong? Though I initially wrote her off for being annoyingly Type-A, Nicole was right. King County Elections has built up a backlog of new voter registrations and registration updates thanks to a wave of anxiety around mail-in voting, and it's taking them a minute to work through the filings.
"Processing has been a bit slower than normal because we've been having an extremely high call and email volume," said Kendall Hodson, chief of staff for King County Elections.
Halei Watkins, a communications officer with King County Elections, said that the elections office was inundated with calls and emails right after August's primary. Watkins attributed this concern to the looming presidential election, but she added that people are contacting the office with worries about mail-in voting way more than they normally do during a presidential year, and way earlier than they ever have in the past.
Washingtonians have been voting by mail since 2011, but Donald Trump's fear-stoking misinformation campaign about mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes, and whatever is happening with the poor U.S. Postal Service clearly still triggers their alarms.
"The questions are all over the board," Watkins said. People want to know about registering to vote and updating their addresses, but they're also inquiring about timelines for when their ballot will come in the mail (they'll be mailed on Oct. 14) and when to submit them in order to get counted (mail-in or drop off at a drop box up until Election Day, but droppin' off is a safer bet on actual Election Day).
"We’re also getting calls from folks who think they need to request a ballot, as that’s so much part of the national dialogue around voting," Watkins said, "But, of course, if you’re registered [in Washington] you get one automatically, so those end up just being voter education opportunities."
Watkins said the elections office also receives calls about USPS concerns and election security. If Washingtonians are having this much trouble despite having mailed in their ballots for the last nine years, then what's going on in other states? The point of Trump's attack on mail-in voting is to deter people from using the system. And it might be working.
According to the New Yorker, a Pew Research Center survey "found that 60% of Biden supporters expect voting to be difficult this fall, while just 35% of Trump supporters do." Hopefully those voters call their local elections office and get a little crash course on the process.
In King County, the registration backlog is significant but manageable. The elections office currently needs to address 3,681 online registrations and 5,400 paper forms, according to Hodson. But, she said, "The team always does whatever it takes to get completely caught-up before ballots go out."
To get that done, just this week the agency hired 25 temporary data entry workers to get registrations out more quickly. They also hired around the same number of workers to handle the customer service calls and emails. Watkins said they expect to hire around 650 total temporary workers from now until election day. In a non-presidential election year, like last year, they typically hire only around 230 workers. But in 2016, King County Elections brought on around 600.
The department expects voter turnout to reach nearly 90% in King County this year. Watkins said they'll need the extra hands to handle the 1,285,000 ballots they're expecting (and hoping) to get back. In the meantime, the staff will work toward addressing the delays in voter registration updates.
Watkins said voters who have recently registered or updated their addresses should "give it a week from today" and then start checking their registration online every couple of days. "We should be pretty caught up in the next week or two," Watkins said.
If you're worried, you can always call (206-296-VOTE) and inquire about your registration status.
Plus, in Washington, you can register or change your address via mail or emaileight days before the election and still be able to vote. You can register to vote in-person on election day.