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Last year, hundreds of ballots were rejected in Whatcom County: Here’s why

Reasons can include late submissions and improper signatures

Election Supervisor Amy Grasher, left, and another election official dump a container full of ballots on the table.
Election Supervisor Amy Grasher, left, and another election official dump ballots in August 2023 in the Whatcom County Auditor's Office. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Olivia Capriotti News Intern

This election reporting is provided free to all readers as a public service by your locally owned Cascadia Daily News. Thanks for supporting truly local news by donating to CDN or subscribing here.

In about two weeks, counties throughout the state will mail out ballots to registered voters in advance of the Aug. 6 primary election.

A large portion of voter engagement entails educating the public on how to vote, where to vote and what to expect on one’s ballot. In a report from the University of Washington’s State Ballots Project, research found that the use of a mail-in voting system has proven effective.

But despite this efficacy, the report noted potential errors with signature verification on ballots.

“It’s a strange thing because a lot of ballots are turned in late so the timing of the election is important, but for many people, half the ballots in many cases are signature problems,” said Scott Allard, UW professor and co-lead researcher on the report.

Whatcom County’s Chief Deputy Auditor Amy Grasher said a majority of ballot signature issues result from voter confusion on what they have on file.

“People think a signature has to be in cursive but it doesn’t, it just has to be a consistent mark that you can make each time,” Grasher said.

To combat this, the county decided to redesign their ballot envelopes in order to notify voters that their signature will be compared to the one on record. This change wasn’t originally set for this year, but Grasher decided to implement it for the upcoming election.

Last year in Whatcom County alone, 57,767 ballots were accepted and 647 ballots were rejected. Compared to Skagit County, which has a population almost twice as small, rejected ballots totaled 182 and accepted ones totaled 14,450.


Out of the 647 rejected ballots, 10 were from voters that lived outside of the county. Grasher explained that these were not accidental, but instead cast by voters who moved and were still registered within the county.

Bellingham had 324 rejected ballots, with over half marked as improperly signed or late.

In comparison to similarly-sized counties such as Benton and Yakima, Whatcom County had a higher number of rejected ballots.

Grasher noted an increase in late ballots and suspects that voters might not understand what "postmarked by Election Day" actually means, where people could be placing ballots in their mailboxes and assuming they will be collected that day.

Grasher also encourages voters to use a ballot drop box, as they’re collected regularly and processed almost that same day. Ballots are required to be placed in a drop box by 8 p.m. on Aug. 6.

Late ballots are more common during primary elections rather than general elections, Allard said.

After a voter casts their ballot, they can sign up to receive a text message notifying them of their ballot status through the state’s registration portal. 

Olivia Capriotti is a Dow Jones summer news intern, specializing in data journalism. Reach her at oliviacapriotti@cascadiadaily.com.

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