On a typical election day, the Island County auditor receives thousands of ballots via the U.S. Postal Service. On Election Day last November the county received only 26 by mail.
“It was extremely concerning,” said Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider last week. “It floored us. It was shocking beyond belief.”
Crider said the county is still seeing the occasional ballot finally make it to her offices in 2016 and the delays appear to be happening with both outgoing and incoming ballots.
“It’s sheer lunacy,” Crider said. “These were all postmarked in time to be counted. They were valid votes.”
The problems can be linked back to the closure of the Postal Service’s Everett processing center in 2013. The center was one of 250 the agency closed nationwide in efforts to deal with massive financial losses. The move has slowed down mail not just regionally, but across the country.
Crider said she had noticed the growing problem in recent years and started to monitor the number of ballets they were receiving. Crider said she voiced her concerns in a January meeting with Congressman Rick Larsen who said he has been working on the issue the past few months.
“I have been concerned about mail processing issues since the Postal Service closed the Everett Center, which I urged against, and I have pressed the Postal Service to be proactive in guarding against any resulting mail delays,” Larsen said in an emailed statement Monday. “Unfortunately, my fears came true when I heard from county auditors in my district earlier this year about delays in processing ballots.”
Larsen said he has been in almost weekly contact with the Postal Service and is facilitating communication between local officials and the agency.
“I have been able to get its leadership to see this is a real problem… and we are working toward resolution on a number of issues, but we aren’t there yet,” Larsen said. “I am still pressing the Postal Service for answers about the timely postmarking of completed ballots. This problem must be fixed before elections coming up this year. There shouldn’t be one ballot with a late postmark that was in the hands of the Postal Service before the election. If a person votes on time, the ballot must be counted.”
For the 2016 elections, Crider is encouraging people to use county ballot boxes whenever possible instead of mailing their votes through the Postal Service. If ballots must be mailed, Crider said residents should to it as early as possible. And if a voter cannot leave their homes and don’t want to mail their ballot, Crider said she will send a staff member to pick up individual ballots.
“Our objective is to enable each and every voter,” Crider said. “We are adamant that we get to every one we can.”