The Secretary of State's office has alerted the U.S. Postal Service after elections officials in two Washington counties reportedly found uncounted ballots in out-of-service mailboxes.
Officials in Pierce and King counties discovered more than 100 uncounted ballots in "disused" mail collection boxes days after the Nov. 7 election, according to a memo sent out by the Secretary of State's office last week. The ballots were delivered late to their respective county elections offices, where officials used the dates on the ballot envelopes to determine whether they were valid and could be counted.
"This is certainly a regrettable situation," said Derrick Nunnally, spokesperson for the Washington Secretary of State's office. "Secretary (Steve) Hobbs and the Postal Service will be working together to identify and implement solutions in time for next year's election cycle."
When the uncounted ballots were found, Hobbs asked in a letter to the postal service that the agency outline steps it is taking to prevent the mistake from happening again.
A postal service spokesperson confirmed receipt of Hobbs' letter in an email and told The Spokesman-Review that the federal agency will respond.
"Postal management is aware of a number of returning ballots found in the mailstream in Tacoma and Seattle, Washington," spokesperson Kim Frum wrote. "The ballots have been delivered to the boards of election to be counted and we continue working closely with the Secretary of State and local election officials to resolve this matter."
According to Hobbs' letter, the Secretary of State's office found out about the uncounted ballots by voters who alerted the state agency when their ballots did not show up in the statewide ballot tracking system at VoteWA.GOV.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she is unsure whether any of the type of mailboxes that caused the problem in King and Pierce counties exist in Spokane County.
"I haven't had a chance to get in touch with the local Postmaster here," Dalton said. "I haven't seen any, but I don't get around to every post box."
The missing ballots were found in mail drop boxes that had been decommissioned by the USPS for security reasons, Dalton said. The boxes were a new design that ended up not working, she said. When the USPS decided to close and decommission the boxes, they reportedly ran into difficulty.
"Because of the way that these boxes are built, they can't physically close off the slot," Dalton said. "So what they did is just tape a sign over the slot. And somebody just tore the sign off, and people started using the box again, because how could they know?"
A sign on an out-of-use box in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood was reportedly ripped off "repeatedly," Nunnally said.
Dalton said that she urges voters to use the state's ballot tracking service for future elections to ensure their votes are counted and that their signature is accepted in their local elections office.
"The best thing to do is get your ballots in early," she said.