Issaquah drop box buzzes as voters return ballots, shatter records

November 13, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Cathy Gulezian, of Maple Valley (left), watches sons Brady, 2, and Dylan, 4, place ballots for her and husband Ken in a ballot drop box attended by King County Elections workers Michele Phelps and Jon Gentry at Issaquah City Hall on Nov. 6. By Greg Farrar

The ballot drop box outside Issaquah City Hall transformed into a nucleus of activity as Election Day stretched into night, and voters raced to deposit ballots before the 8 p.m. deadline.

King County Elections staffers, dressed in aprons the same shade as traffic cones, directed voters to the secure box. The elections office opened the box last month and, as the ballot deadline approached and after post offices closed, more and more ballot-toting voters arrived.

“Unlike during tax season, the post office does not stay open longer hours for voting,” Lynne Miller, a King County Elections spokeswoman, said just before 7 p.m. Nov. 6.

Elections staffers used atomic clocks to determine the precise 8 p.m. deadline at ballot drop box sites countywide.

King County Elections forecast 87 percent turnout countywide — a hike from the 84 percent record set in 2008. (The county relied on a combination of mail ballots and polling sites in the last presidential election.)

“We’re going to break a lot of records this election,” said Kim van Ekstrom, a King County Elections spokeswoman. “We’ve broken the record of the highest number of registered voters. We’ll be breaking the record of the highest count on election night. We’ll probably break the record on the total number of votes.”

The costliest election in Washington history reached a coda at post offices and ballot drop boxes, as voters made choices for president and governor, and on groundbreaking ballot measures. The electorate also selected candidates in federal, statewide, legislative and local contests.

The number of ballots tallied on Election Day — about 556,000 from across King County — reflected a push to encourage voters to return ballots earlier.

“People have gotten the message: mail your ballot in,” Miller said. “It’s much easier for them, and much more convenient.”

In the days before the ballot deadline, officials opened accessible voting centers at the elections office in Renton and other locations for voters with disabilities to cast independent ballots. The accessible voting centers still receive traffic from voters uncertain about the all-mail election or more accustomed to casting ballots in person.

“When people do come in, there are still some that confess that they just like that traditional, ‘I want to come and do it,’” Miller said. “We’re not turning anyone away. If that’s what people choose to do, that’s fine.”

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