Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2014

Absentee ballots more popular than ever

By Andy Hallman | Nov 01, 2012
Washington County election officials Sue Meeks (left) and Julie Lindner-Reid prepare to send out absentee ballots in the mail Thursday morning.

Absentee ballot requests have skyrocketed in recent years. Sue Meeks of the Washington County Auditor’s Office said her office has sent about 4,500 absentee ballot requests as of Wednesday, which is 1,000 more than were sent out for the most recent presidential election in 2008.

Meeks said it’s not hard to see why absentee ballots have become so popular.

“It’s so much more convenient,” she said. “When absentee balloting started, you could only do it if you couldn’t make it to the polling place. Now don’t have to give a reason for wanting an absentee ballot.”

She said the political parties are also responsible for the increased use of absentee ballots since it’s another way for them to ensure their supporters will vote.

“They want to show how easy voting can be,” she said.

Meeks said that those 4,500 absentee ballot requests account for about one-third of the registered voters in the county.

The Auditor’s Office collects the absentee ballots and waits until Election Day to count them. Meeks said that she and her co-workers will process all the absentee ballots received by then so that they can be included in the results released that night.

The results on Election Night are not official. They aren’t official until the election canvass on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day can still be counted as long as they were postmarked no later than Monday, Nov. 5. Meeks said that only a few absentee ballots, often no more than five, will arrive after Election Day.

The only downside to absentee voting is the cost to the county. The county pays to send the absentee ballot through the mail and it pays for the postage on the return envelope. That’s about $5,800 in postage alone.

“We definitely spend a lot of time sending out ballots, too,” Meeks said. “We sent out about 200 a day. We’re even hired an additional person, who is nearly full-time, to keep up with all of it. We’ve had that person on board for the whole month of October.”

The Auditor’s Office has been open extended hours in the past week and will be open longer than normal through the election. The auditor’s office is normally open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It was open last Saturday for nine hours, and will be open for eight hours this coming Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will also be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Monday.

Washington County Republican Chairwoman Patricia Lipski said the Republican Party is encouraging voters to vote absentee both by sending them mail and by calling them. She declined to comment on whether the Washington County Republicans would tell people to vote straight-party and said that her job is to provide as much information about voting as she can.

The Washington County Democratic Chairman, Pete Morrison, could not be reached for comment by press time.

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