Frequently Asked Questions on Voting by Mail

Washington State votes by mail. Vote by mail is convenient and gives you extra time to learn about the ballot measures and candidates before casting your vote. All counties conduct elections vote-by-mail.  All vote-by-mail ballots (also known as absentee) are kept in secure storage while not being processed.  Processing includes the verification of signatures and postmarks, removing the inner envelope from the outer envelope and removing the ballot from the inner envelope.  Ballots are typically secured with numbered seals and a log is kept of the seal numbers to detect any inappropriate access.

When are ballots mailed?

Your ballot is mailed to you at least 18 days before each election. Your ballot packet will include a ballot, a secrecy envelope, and a return envelope. Follow the instructions that accompany your ballot.

If you are a registered voter and do not receive your ballot, contact your county elections department.

How can I learn more about the measures and/or candidates that appear on my ballot?

Washington has many ways to help voters become informed about ballot measures and candidates:

  • The state General Election Voters’ Pamphlet is mailed to every household in Washington. If you need the General Election Voters’ Pamphlet in accessible formats or alternate languages, call (800) 448-4881 or email voterspamphlet@sos.wa.gov.
  • For personalized ballot measure and candidate information online, go to MyVote.
  • Accessible versions, including a text only format, are available at vote.wa.gov. Call (800) 448-4881 or email voterspamphlet@sos.wa.gov if you are unable to easily locate the accessible version.

Other sources of information about candidates and issues include local newspapers, television, libraries, political parties, and campaigns.

When is the latest I can turn in my completed ballot?

Your ballot must be postmarked no later than Election Day or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

If you fail to sign the ballot declaration, or the signature on the ballot declaration does not match the signature in your voter registration record, your county elections department will contact you. If you are unable to sign the declaration, make a mark in front of two witnesses and have them sign in the designated spaces.

You can check the status of your ballot by logging into MyVote and clicking on "Ballot Status".

Can I vote in-person?

Each county opens a voting center prior to each primary, special election, and general election. Each voting center is open during business hours during the voting period, which begins eighteen days before, and ends at 8:00 p.m. on the day of, the primary, special election, or general election.

You can locate your nearest voting center by logging into MyVote.wa.gov or contacting your county's elections department.

If I’m on vacation or have moved, will my ballot be forwarded?

Some counties may allow ballots to be forwarded. However, the best thing to do is contact your county elections department and ask for a temporary change in your mailing address.  You should also contact the county elections department when you return to the address where you are registered to vote, or if you have permanently moved.

What is a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot?

Military personnel and U.S. citizens overseas may use a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot available through Voting Assistance Offices at military installations or at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.  Washington State law allows all eligible election contests to be voted on this ballot.

How do I obtain a replacement ballot?

You can obtain a replacement ballot delivered online by logging into MyVote.wa.gov. Alternatively, a replacement ballot may be obtained by contacting your local county elections department when you have destroyed, spoiled, lost, or not received the original ballot.

What is a provisional ballot, and why would I need one?

A provisional ballot is a ballot issued to a person seeking to vote who might otherwise be denied the opportunity to vote a regular ballot.  Provisional ballots are researched to confirm the voter’s registration before the ballot is counted.

How do I correct my ballot?

Follow the instructions on your ballot for how to correct a mistake.

What happens if I vote for more than one candidate?

When more votes for an office or issue are selected than are permitted by law, the votes will be considered an over vote and no votes will be recorded for that office or issue.  In this case, the remainder of your ballot that is valid will be counted.  You may only vote for one candidate in most instances.  In rare instances, when you may vote for more than one candidate, it will be clearly indicated on the ballot.

Will my ballot count if I choose not to vote on certain issues or candidates?

Yes, it will. You can choose to skip any measures or offices you don't wish to vote in. All the votes you cast will be counted.

Will my vote count if I forgot to seal my ballot in the security envelope?

Yes, it will. Your elections department will securely process your ballot if your security envelope is unsealed.

How does the elections department process my vote by mail (absentee) ballot securely?

It is essential to the integrity of an election that ballot processing be accurate and transparent, while maintaining your right to a secret ballot. After you return your voted ballot, your county elections department follows this ballot counting process:

  1. Your signature on the outer return envelope is checked against the signature on file in your voter registration record to make sure they match.
  2. You are credited for voting in that election. This ensures that only one ballot from each voter is counted.
  3. The outer return envelope, which identifies you, is then separated from the inner security envelope, which contains your voted ballot. Your ballot cannot be traced back to you, ensuring the secrecy of your vote.
  4. All ballots are inspected to make sure the tabulating machine will be able to read all votes. Tabulation equipment is tested before every election to make sure it is working accurately.

The above steps continue with all ballots until the election is certified.

Elections are certified 10 days after Special Elections, 14 days after Primaries and 21 days after General Elections. Preliminary election results are released on election night after 8 p.m. and are updated as additional ballots are counted.

You are welcome to observe ballot processing. Contact your county elections department for more information.