Frequently Asked Questions - Elections
Below you'll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions our office receives.
To register to vote you must be:
- A citizen of the United States
- Living at your address in Washington at least 30 days before the next election you vote
- At least 16 years old
- Not disqualified from voting due to a court order
- Not currently serving a sentence of total confinement under the state Department of Corrections for a Washington felony conviction
- Not currently incarcerated for a federal or out-of-state felony conviction
Washington State is a vote-by-mail state. State law requires us to deliver ballots to the post office at least 18 days before Election Day. If you haven't received your ballot, please call our Elections team at 360.786.5408.
You can also get a ballot or replacement ballot in-person at the Elections Division of an Auditor’s Office or Vote Center beginning 20 days before an election. You can find information about Thurston County Elections Office and Vote Centers, including locations and hours. You can pick up a ballot for yourself, a family member or a registered domestic partner.
We have a list of key election dates and registration deadlines here.
You can vote in Washington State, even if you're away from home during an election. Please look at the following situations and identify your options:
- Seasonal resident. If you are a seasonal resident, update your seasonal mailing address with our office. Provide us with the first and last days you'll receive mail at this address and we'll send your ballot to that address each year between the dates you specify.
- Out of town and can't receive mail. You can access an electronic ballot by logging into VoteWA. You'll only need access to the internet and a printer to print your ballot and ballot packet. Mail your ballot to our office postmarked by Election Day or in a ballot drop box by 8:00 p.m. Election Night.
Leaving town and can’t receive your ballot by mail and won’t have access to the internet or a printer. If you know you will be out of town and won’t have access to mail, internet or printer, contact us and we can issue a special advance ballot starting 90 days before an election.
If you need assistance with registering to vote, obtaining a ballot and voting your ballot, please contact our office at 360.786.5408 for assistance. If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, contact 711 Washington Relay.
You can also find helpful information on our Accessible Voting webpage about voting machines and ballot drop box locations.
What address should I use to register to vote?
You can use either your hometown address or the address where you live at school. Your choice depends on where you want to claim residency.
If I keep my registration in my hometown, how do I vote while I'm away at college?
Call our office at 360.786.5408 to have your ballot sent to your school address.
Can I vote by email?
While you can't vote by email, you can access an electronic ballot by logging into VoteWA. You'll only need access to the internet and a printer to print your ballot and return it to our office.
You CAN vote if you live in a place where you cannot receive mail. You register by providing:
- A place where you spend most of your time
- Another place where you can receive mail
You MUST fill out the residential address line on the voter registration form so we can assign your voting precinct. This address can be a park, intersection, or another place that we can find on a map.
For example: Olympia Ave. NE and Franklin St. NE, Olympia, WA.
You must also provide a mailing address because we will mail your ballot to you. You can use one of the following:
- Address of a friend or relative
- Address of a shelter or day center where you can receive mail
- General delivery at a post office. The post office holds general delivery for 30 days. The post office requires identification to pick up general delivery mail. You don't have to pre-register to use general delivery.
Citizens may register to vote or update their address up to 8:00 p.m. Election Day.
- Voters may register by any means up to 8 days prior to Election Day.
- After that citizens must appear in person at any Elections Division of an Auditor’s Office or voting center in the state to register to vote up to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
A Future Voter is a teen who is pre-registered to vote. Citizens may pre-register to vote at age 16 and will automatically be sent a ballot during the first election they are eligible to vote.
What is the Future Voter Program?
It is a program led by the Auditor's Office guiding students to get the word out to those who can pre-register.
Who can participate in the Future Voter Program?
The Auditor's Office is partnering with high schools and SPSCC's Running Start Program to find individuals who want to make a positive change in their communities and are committed to spreading the word about the new Future Voter Law.
Do you or someone you know want to participate in the Future Voter Program?
We are looking for hardworking, reliable, motivated, and enthusiastic high school students who are passionate about the civic process. Students who are 16 or 17-years-old with a desire to promote voter registration and are willing to communicate effectively with their peers are encouraged to participate.
What is the time commitment?
2-4 hours a month. Participants will help orchestrate voter registration drives at their schools and help promote the Future Voter Program.
Washington State allows 17-year-old registrants to vote in primary elections on candidate races that will appear on the ballot in the following general election. A Primary Only Voter is a 17-year-old registered voter who is at least 17 years of age on the day of the primary election and will be 18 years of age on or before the day of the subsequent November general election.
If you have been convicted of a felony in a Washington State court, the right to vote is automatically restored when the person is no longer serving a sentence of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections for that felony conviction.
If you have been convicted of a felony in a federal or out-of-state court, the right to vote is restored automatically when the person is no longer incarcerated (in prison) for a felony.
You can check your ballot status at VoteWA.gov. Please allow 3 to 5 days between mailing and having your ballot status updated.
Visitors may come to the ballot processing center to view the process or watch it via live stream at ThurstonWaVotes.gov.
We also recruit and train observers to watch ballot processing.
After you return your voted ballot:
- Your signature on the declaration return envelope is checked against the signature on file in your voter registration record.
- You are credited for voting. This ensures that only one ballot from each voter is counted.
- The declaration return envelope, which identifies you, is separated from the inner security sleeve, which contains your voted ballot. Your ballot cannot be traced back to you.
Watch this video for more information on ballot processing.
Normally only 50% of the votes are included in the Election Day results release. This makes it likely races may change in the following days as the remaining ballots are received and processed. Races could widen, narrow, or flip. This is normal and well within ranges of statistical probability.
Tabulation equipment is certified by the Washington Secretary of State and the federal Election Assistance Commission. It is tested for resilience and accuracy by independent approved test laboratories.
Tabulation equipment is also not connected to any outside networks, including the internet. They are kept under lock and key when not in use. And when in use, they are always monitored by cameras.
Before each election, a public Logic and Accuracy test is conducted to ensure that voting equipment is ready for use and properly prepared to tabulate results.
We also conduct post-election audits prior to the certification of the election. Political parties, if in agreement, can select the office and precincts audited for the Primary and General elections. In addition, we take a random sample of voted ballots and compare the marks against what the scanner read. The audit compares the vote totals from the tabulation system to a hand count of physical ballots.
Our partners at the Center for Internet Security maintains a regularly updated Rumor Control page.
Drop boxes are a secure, convenient way for voters to return their ballot. There are 29 ballot drop boxes in Thurston County. It’s the most direct way to return your ballot.
Drop boxes are open 24 hours a day for the entire voting period. Ballots are collected at least every 48 hours and often several times per day. They are securely locked and closed with tamper-evident seals.
Two employees must be present at all times for ballot collection.
Ballots are transported directly to the ballot processing center in sealed containers by teams of two.
Your ballot is guaranteed on-time as long as the ballot is deposited in a drop-box by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Washington’s voter registration system (VoteWA) is continuously updated by county election workers as well as the Office of the Secretary of State. The Office of the Secretary of State works with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Licensing, the Department of Health, the Department of Corrections, and the Office of the Administrator of the Courts to maintain the accuracy of voter registration data.
The Secretary of State’s Office regularly provides counties with lists of voters who need to be removed from the voter rolls. These lists include
- Deceased voters
- Voters currently serving a sentence of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Corrections
- Voters who may be registered in more than one county.
Each month, the Office of the Secretary of State receives a list of deceased people from the Department of Health and the Social Security Administration.
These lists are compared to the voter registration list and potential matches are flagged for research by the County Auditors’ offices. Voter registrations of deceased persons are usually canceled within a month. County Auditors may also remove registrations of deceased persons using published obituaries or written notices from relatives.
If you’ve received a ballot for a deceased member of your household, please return the ballot, marked “deceased.” Or, give us a call at 360.786.5408. We are truly sorry for your loss.
Additionally, Washington State is a member of ERIC (Electronic Records Information Center) that compares voter registration and motor vehicle license data across 32 other states. ERIC uses sophisticated data matching software. ERIC reports can detect when a voter is registered in another state.
We still rely on voters to keep their voter registration records updated. If you move or change your name, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.786.5408. Or, update your voter registration online at VoteWA.gov or when you update your driver's license.
If a ballot is mailed to your home in the name of someone who doesn’t reside with you, mark the ballot as “moved no longer lives here” and place back into the mail.
Elections are managed by professional, certified election officials. Audits, independent observation, and segregation of duties would not allow “rigging” to go undetected.
While ballots are being handled, work is monitored on-site by observers and livestreamed on the internet.
The Logic and Accuracy test, post-election audits, and any required recounts all verify the accuracy and integrity of our tabulation system.
A report from the University of California Los Angeles and the University of New Mexico found that vote by mail does not increase voter fraud.
There are very low rates of fraud in Vote by Mail states, as summarized by the Brookings Institute.
Only one ballot is counted per person, even if they receive multiple ballots.
A person may receive an updated ballot because their residential address or name changed after the initial ballot mailing. Sometimes this happens when people interact with the Department of Licensing for drivers’ licensing services or if a voter has moved to a new address.
Voters don’t choose a political party when they register to vote in Washington State. Party preference is not recorded in the voter’s registration record. Ballots sent to voters are not coded by party. Voters are free to select any candidate during regular and special elections, regardless of party preference.
Every four years, the major political parties hold a Presidential nominating process. The parties nominate their choice for President on the ballot by caucus and a percentage of the election results. When the parties nominate by election, counties are required to mail and process ballots by political affiliation. This is the only election in which Washington's voters are required to mark and sign party declarations written by the major political parties. The party choice does not affect how voters make choices in Washington’s other regular elections. The Office of the Secretary of State is required to deliver election results to each major political party, including the party choice of participating voters. Once the election results have been transmitted, the voter’s party choice is removed from the voter’s file.
Yes. If you’re an early voter, you should feel confident to return your ballot by mail. Postal carriers are reliable, unbiased professionals who handle ballots with the utmost integrity. Your ballot is treated as 1st Class mail. It’s postage-paid. No need to apply a stamp.
If you’re a late voter and plan to vote in the final week before Election Day, we recommend that you use a ballot drop box. Find the closest Ballot Drop Box here.
If you’re voting on election day, make sure to place your ballot in a USPS receptacle before the posted pick-up time. Only ballots postmarked by election day are counted.
Thank you for trusting us! Ballot drop boxes bypass the USPS mail. You can deliver your ballot directly to election workers via a ballot drop box. We have 29 ballot drop box locations in Thurston County. Chances are good that one is within two miles of your home! Ballot drop boxes are collected by professional nonpartisan election workers with tight oversight.
We offer in-person assistance, but Washington State does not have polling places. Counties do not have voting machines on which you cast your vote. Anyone who comes to the voting center to vote “in-person” will simply be handed another copy of the same ballot previously mailed. Please vote the ballot that was mailed to you.
Only travel to the Voting Center if you need to register to vote or you don’t have a ballot. Even then, we would like you to call first at 360.786.5408 or email email@example.com, because we may be able to help you online or by phone.
To register to vote in Washington State, people must provide some form of identification — most commonly their Washington State driver’s license or ID, or the last four digits of their Social Security number —and attest in a signed statement that they are a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote.
A person who submits false citizenship on their voter registration application or votes as a noncitizen is guilty of a class C felony. This is clearly stated on all registration forms, and on every ballot envelope.
Voters confirm their eligibility to vote in every election by signing the ballot declaration. If a person illegally registers and votes, they also jeopardize attaining citizenship in the future and could be deported.
An official list of citizens to check citizenship status against does not exist. If the required information for voter registration is included – name; address; date of birth; a signature attesting to the truth of the information provided on the application; and an indication in the box confirming the individual is a U.S. citizen – the person must be added to the voter registration file. Modifying state law would require an act of the state legislature, and federal law, an act of Congress. Neither the Secretary of State nor the county auditor has lawmaking authority.
While state law does not provide for citizenship verification upon registration, it does allow a local challenge of a voter registration, which can be brought by any person or the county prosecutor. The burden of proof lies with the challenger, and evidence must be presented to the county canvassing board for review. Learn more about the challenge process here. (RCW 29A.08.810 through 29A.08.850.)
Additionally, the Washington State Department of Licensing has implemented federally compliant REAL ID for enhanced driver’s licenses and identicards. People applying for an enhanced license must present citizenship verification. This type of license will soon be required to travel by air and will provide election administrators an additional assurance to verify citizenship for registered voters.