Exercising the Right to Vote

The right to vote in Washington

In the state of Washington, any U.S. citizen age 18 or older who has been a legal resident of the state for 30 days may register to vote, with certain exceptions discussed below.  Voters are not required to declare their political affiliation when they register to vote. The elections system must provide accommodations to make it possible for people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote.

How can a person register to vote?

Individuals can register online, by mail or in person.  Several options exist for obtaining a registration form.

  • Online: If a person has a valid Washington state driver’s license or state identification card, he or she may register to vote online at the Secretary of State’s website at:
    https://wei.sos.wa.gov/agency/osos/en/voterinformation/Pages/RegistertoVote.aspx.
  • By mail: A person can register by mailing the registration form to the local County Elections Office.  The form and addresses for each County Elections Office are available online at:  http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/VRF_English_web.pdf.  Additionally, a person can call 1-800-448-4881 for assistance in identifying where to send the registration application.
  • In person: A person can register in person at his or her County Auditor’s Office.  A list of auditor’s offices can be found at: http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/viewauditors.aspx
  • By phone: A person can request a registration form by calling the Voter Information Hotline at 1-800-448-4881 (voice) or 1-800-422-8683 (TTY).

How many days before an election must a person be registered in order to vote?

Generally, an individual must submit a registration application at least 29 days before an election in which he or she wishes to vote.  This means that if a person is mailing in his or her registration form, it must be postmarked at least 29 days before the election date. Additionally, an individual can register to vote in person at the county auditor’s office no later than 8 days before an election.

What if a person moves?  Does he or she have to register again?

If a person moves to another county, he or she must submit a new voter registration form to the new county.  If a person moves to a new address within the same county, he or she does not have to fill out a new registration form, but can contact the county auditor’s office to request that his or her registration be transferred to the new address. This can be done by contacting the county auditor’s office in person, by mail, by phone, or online and informing the office of both the new and old addresses.

Are there any state agencies that help people with disabilities register to vote?

In 1993, Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act, more commonly known as the Motor Voter Act.  This act requires states to identify agencies that primarily serve people with disabilities and require them to offer voter registration services.  In Washington, the Department of Social and Health services (DSHS) is the agency chosen by the Governor to offer voter registration services at all of its offices.  Examples of DSHS offices include:

All of these agencies are required to provide voter registration forms.  Additionally, someone at the agency can help a person with a disability fill out and mail a registration form.

Voting by mail

Every county in Washington automatically mails a ballot to each registered voter. Counties must mail ballots to voters at least 18 days prior to the election date.  Voters turning in ballots must ensure that the ballots are postmarked by Election Day. 

Replacement ballots

A registered voter may obtain a replacement ballot if the ballot is destroyed, spoiled, lost, or not received by the voter.  The voter may obtain the ballot by telephone request, by mail, electronically, or in person.  The county auditor can issue a replacement ballot if the request is received before 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.  Requests may be made in person, in writing, by telephone, or electronically, by the voter, a family member, or a registered domestic partner.

Replacement ballots or the original ballot, whichever is received first, are then credited to the voter's registration file and counted if the ballot meets all requirements for tabulation.

Provisional ballots

A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there is a question about a voter’s eligibility.  A provisional ballot is counted if the voter is found to be eligible. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires that people who declare that they are registered voters but whose names do not appear on the list of eligible voters, be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.  The voter shall vote and submit the provisional ballot at the voting center.  These votes must then be counted if the voter is later determined eligible.

The voter must be provided information on how to find out whether the provisional ballot was counted and, if applicable, the reason why the vote was not counted. The individual must be allowed to cast a provisional ballot at the voting center if they so choose, even if they cannot provide the necessary identification.

Before the primary or election is certified, the county auditor must examine and investigate all received provisional ballots to determine whether the ballot can be counted.  The auditor is required to provide the disposition of the provisional ballot and, if the ballot was not counted, the reason why it was not counted, on a free access system such as a toll-free telephone number, web site, mail, or other means. The auditor must notify the voter in a specific manner when the declaration is not signed or when the signatures do not match.

Voting at a voting center: Accessible Voting Units

Each county has at least one voting center, and each voting center has at least one Accessible Voting Unit (AVU), also known as a Disability Access Unit.  The AVU allows people who are blind or visually impaired to vote with independence and privacy.  The AVU equipment displays a person’s ballot on a monitor.  The person can then vote by touching the screen, using a select wheel, or using a tool.  A person also can use headphones to listen to his or her ballot.  The machines can also be fitted with sip-and-puff tools.  An election worker at the voting center will help people use the AVU.  A person may be able to make an appointment with the county elections department to arrange a time before the election to practice using the AVU.

Voting at a voting center: assistance

A person can go to a voting center up to 18 days before the election and until 8pm on the day of an election.  Persons who wish to vote at a voting center should take their ballot with them.  If a registered voter did not receive a ballot the voter can request a replacement or a provisional ballot.

If a person is unable to vote due to a disability, he or she may request assistance at the voting center.  Two election officers, one from each party, should be available at the voting center to assist, or the voter may designate a person of his or her choice to provide help.

To see where a county’s voting center is located, call (800) 448-4881 or (800) 422-8683 (TTY) or see the county auditor’s website at: http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors.aspx

Are voting centers required to be accessible?

Yes.  Under both Federal and Washington State laws, voting centers must be accessible to all voters who are elderly or have a disability, or an alternative means for casting their ballots must be provided.  In fact, in Washington, a voting center is considered fully accessible if all the questions on the ADA Checklist for Polling Places are answered affirmatively.  Some accessibility standards include:

  • A signed accessible parking space provided when parking is provided for voters. 
  • An unobstructed and accessible route of travel to the polling place.
  • An unobstructed area for voting.

Getting elections materials in alternative formats

The voter’s pamphlet contains detailed information about initiatives and candidates.  Accessible formats of the State voters' pamphlet are available online at vote.wa.gov.  A voter can obtain copies of the voter’s pamphlet in alternative formats such as Braille and on tape. Such alternative formats should be mailed without charge.  Audio CDs or large print versions are also available upon subscription by either calling the voter hotline at (800) 448-4881 or (800) 422-8683 (TTY), or sending an email to voterspamphlet@sos.wa.gov.  When making a request, individuals should provide the preferred format and contact information including name, telephone number, and mailing address.

County advisory committees

Each county in Washington must create and maintain an advisory committee that includes people with various disabilities and people with expertise in accommodations for individuals with disabilities.  The purpose of each committee is to assist election officials in developing a plan to identify and implement improvements in election accessibility for voters with disabilities.  Voters interested in joining the local Disability Advisory Committee can contact the county elections department.

Complaints

If a person believes that Title III of the Help America Vote Act, which is called the “Uniform and Nondiscriminatory Election Technology and Administration Requirements”, has been violated, the person can make a complaint with the Secretary of State.  The complaint must be in writing, sworn under oath, signed and notarized.  Individuals can use the complaint form located at the Secretary of State’s web site:  http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/Complaint-English-10-2007.pdf.  Alternatively an individual can file a complaint without the form if the individual includes the following information:  name, telephone number, mailing address, and a clear and concise description of the violation.  The complaint should be sent to the Secretary of State and must include proof that a copy was sent or delivered to each respondent no later than 30 days after the election was certified. 

Do people who have guardians have the right to vote?

If a court appointed a person’s guardian after July 24, 2005, then that person still has the right to vote unless the court specifically took away the right to vote in the guardianship papers.

If a court imposed a limited guardianship on a person before July 24, 2005, that person still has the right to vote unless the court specifically took away the right to vote in the guardianship papers. 

However, if a court imposed a full guardianship on a person before July 24, 2005, that person lost his or her right to vote unless the court which ordered the guardianship specifically found the person to be rationally capable of voting.  A person in this situation may appear before a judge to ask to have the right to vote reinstated.

Do people living in residential facilities, such as group homes, nursing homes, or psychiatric hospitals have the right to vote?

People living in group homes, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals or other residential facilities retain their right to vote, unless otherwise restricted as described in the section above about guardianships.  The staff of the residential facility may assist residents with voter registration and voting.

Do felons lose their right to vote?

Under the Washington State Constitution, a person who has been convicted of a felony loses his or her right to vote.  However, if a person was convicted of a felony in federal court or a state court outside of Washington State, that person’s right to vote is restored once the person is no longer incarcerated.  If a person was convicted of a felony in a Washington state court, the person’s right to vote is restored and he or she may register vote once the person is released from prison and is no longer under the authority of the Washington State Department of Corrections.  To find out whether a person with a felony conviction has had his or her voting rights restored, one must check to see if he or she is under community custody with the Washington State Department of Corrections.  To check this, call 1-800-430-9674.  The ACLU has a publication that provides specific instructions. http://www.aclu-wa.org/voting-rights-restoration-washington-state

More information on elections and voting can be found at:

  • Office of the Secretary of State
    State Elections Office
    P.O. Box 40229
    Olympia, WA 98504-0230
    www.vote.wa.gov
    Voter Information Hotline
    800-448-4881 / 800-422-8683 (TTY)
  • County Auditors
    Contact information for each county’s auditor can be found at:
    http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/auditors.aspx
    or by calling the Office of the Secretary of State at:
    800-448-4881 / 800-422-8683 (TTY)
  • League of Women Voters
    1411 Fourth Avenue Building, Suite 803
    Seattle, Washington 98101-2216
    800-419-2596
    www.lwvwa.org
  • Disability Rights Washington
    www.DisabilityRightsWA.org
This information is current as of: 
10/2012
Tools to Help You Category: 

This information sheet is a service of Disability Rights Washington (DRW).  It provides general information as a public service only, and is not legal advice.  If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney.  You do not have an attorney-client relationship with DRW.  If you would like more information about this topic or would like to receive this information sheet in an alternative format, such as large print or Braille, call DRW at (800) 562-2702.


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