Last-minute registration, voting with a disability and more you need to know before Tuesday's election

Same-day voter registration is now a thing in Washington. Meanwhile, people with physical impairments can get help filling out their ballots.

Voters line up at King County Elections headquarters on Oct. 29, 2018, to register to vote. A new law this year lets people go to a voting center or county elections office to register to vote through Election Day. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Maybe you forgot there was an election coming up (it’s Tuesday, by the way). Maybe you never knew in the first place. Maybe you just moved and registering to vote was the last thing on your mind.

In any case, Washington state’s Aug. 6 primary election is now upon us. And you can still register and cast your ballot in the primary, even if you recently moved — or never signed up to vote in the first place.

Same-day voter registration

A new law in Washington state means people can register to vote or change their voter registration up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Tuesday’s primary marks the first election that Washington’s same-day voter registration law will be in effect.

Under the new law, last-minute registrations must occur in person at a county elections office or voting center. No paperwork is required, but people registering must know the number on their Washington state driver’s license or identification card, or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

A person’s ballot won’t actually be counted until the registration paperwork is processed and verified. But as long as you are an eligible voter who registers and submits a ballot before the 8 p.m. Tuesday deadline, you’re good to go.

King County has five vote centers where people can register to vote in person through Election Day. A list of other election offices throughout the state is available on the Washington Secretary of State’s website.

Replacing a ballot

If you didn’t receive a ballot or it was damaged, it’s now logistically too late to request a replacement to be sent by mail. Instead, elections officials recommend you fill out an online ballot and return that instead.

“It’s really the best tool we have for ballot replacement at this point,” said Kendall LeVan Hodson, the chief of staff of King County Elections.

King County’s online ballot can be found on the county elections website. Voters can fill out the ballot online, then print it and return it just as they would any other ballot.

For other counties in Washington, an online ballot can be accessed by inputting your information into, then clicking on the “online ballot” option.

Returning a ballot

If you haven’t yet returned your ballot by Monday, it may be a good idea to take it to a drop box rather than sending it in the mail, said Julie Anderson, the Pierce County auditor. Although each ballot now comes with a postage-paid envelope, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day to ensure they are counted, and it's best not to take a chance, she said.

A list of ballot drop boxes in King County can be found on the county’s election website. Pierce County and Snohomish County each have their own maps of drop box locations.

Ballots are accepted at drop boxes until 8 p.m. Election Day. (Returning ballots to the drop boxes doesn't require a stamp.)

Voting if you have a disability

Washington’s system of voting by mail is often hailed for its convenience: Ballots are mailed to people’s homes 18 days before Election Day, and voters can participate in democracy at their leisure, completing their ballots at their dining room table (or even a bar).

Yet some people with disabilities may still need additional assistance. Those with limited sight may have difficulty reading a standard ballot, while others with limited dexterity or hand strength may need physical assistance marking their ballots.

For Tuesday’s primary election, there are several ways people with physical or other limitations can get the help they need. For those who need help to fill out or read a paper ballot, the aforementioned online ballot often works better, elections officials said. For instance, the computerized ballot can work in conjunction with screen-reader software for people who are blind or have visual impairments.

“For a lot of people living at home with computers, they already have equipment and assistance accessories on their computers at home,” said Anderson, the Pierce County auditor. The online ballot lets them fill out the ballot at home using the software they are most comfortable with, then print it out and return it just like any other ballot, she said.

People with disabilities who may prefer in-person assistance, or who have difficulty with the online ballot, can visit a county voting center to use touch-screen machines that can help them participate in the election. The devices can be useful for people with limited mobility, in addition to those with limited sight.

“We can change the size of the font, we can adjust the color of the font — we can do all sorts of things to help people,” said Hodson of King County Elections.

Each voting machine is equipped with an audio ballot and audio guide, so that people can listen to the ballot and make their selections, Hodson said. People can also bring in their own adaptive equipment that can be used with the county machines.

At the end of the process, the machines will print a scannable, marked ballot that voters can review. The ballot can then be placed in an envelope and counted just like any other ballot.

Hodson said those who can’t make it to a voting center or who struggle with the online ballot also can call the King County Elections Department at 206-296-VOTE (8683) for additional assistance.

In some cases, county officials have sent two-person teams to a person’s house to help them vote and return their ballot, Hodson said.

“Sometimes there are voters who really do need that audio ballot and can’t get to a vote center,” Hodson said. “That team of two from our staff will actually read to them their ballot, if that’s what they need.”

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About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is formerly a Crosscut staff reporter who covered state politics and the Legislature.