Frequently Asked Questions on Voting by Mail
Washington votes by mail every election.
If you are registered to vote in Washington, there is no need to request a ballot. Confirm your registration at VoteWA.gov.
Voting by mail is convenient and gives you time to learn about the ballot measures and candidates before casting your vote. Return your ballot by official drop box or by mail, no stamp needed. Your ballot must be deposited or postmarked by Election Day. If mailed, the USPS recommends that you mail a week before Election Day.
All counties conduct vote-by-mail elections. 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 secured with numbered seals and a log is kept of the seal numbers to detect any inappropriate access. Votes cast are tabulated after 8 p.m. PST on Election Day. Results are neither known nor reported before 8 p.m.
- When are ballots mailed?
- Your ballot is mailed at least 18 days before each election. Your packet will include a ballot, a secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve for your voted ballot, and a return envelope with pre-paid postage. 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:
- The state General Election Voters' Pamphlet is mailed to every household in Washington.
- For a personalized voters' guide, sign in to VoteWA.gov. For best results, use a mobile device or Chrome as your browser.
- Accessible versions, including PDFs, audio files, and a text only format, are available online. Call (800) 448-4881 or email [email protected] 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 either be postmarked no later than Election Day or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If mailing your ballot within a week of Election Day, be mindful of mailbox collection times or use an official ballot drop box. A late postmark could disqualify your ballot.
Did you sign the return envelope? Your county elections department reviews your signature and compares it to your voter registration records. They will contact you if there's a problem with your signature. If you are unable to sign the declaration, make a mark in front of two witnesses and have them sign in the designated spaces.
To check the status of your voted ballot, sign in to VoteWA.gov and click "Ballot Status." Please allow 3-5 business days for your ballot to be posted as received.
- Can I vote in-person?
Each county opens an accessible 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 VoteWA.gov or contacting your county's elections department.
COVID-19 update: Voting by mail is safe and does not present a risk of spreading the virus. For in-person services, each county may have restrictions. You should contact your county elections office to determine what arrangements can be made for in person voting.
- 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?
- Just ask! Contact your local county elections department when you have destroyed, spoiled, lost, or not received the original ballot. Remember, your county may only accept one ballot and will verify your signature. Alternatively, you can obtain a replacement ballot delivered online by logging into VoteWA.gov.
- What is a provisional ballot, and why would I need one?
- Washington provides in person same-day registration services at county elections offices and provisional ballots are not common. 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:
- Your signature on the outer return envelope is checked against the signature on file in your voter registration record to make sure they match.
- You are credited for voting in that election. This ensures that only one ballot from each voter is counted.
- 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.
- 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.