Strong turnout reported at King and Pierce County polls


by By JANE MCCARTHY and CHARLOTTE STARCK / KING 5 News and Associated Press

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:36 PM

Video: Election Day finally arrives

SEATTLE - The Secretary of State's office predicts a record vote of more than 3 million ballots in Washington.

The counting officially began at 7a.m. King County says their counting will be slow and steady. It's going to take about a week to tabulate all the absentee ballots.

One of the reasons is that the ballot is much longer this time. The longer the ballots, the longer the count.

And the equipment used to tabulate is 16 years old, and much slower than the equipment used in other counties.

"The machines that we're using to count absentee ballots are really our poll site counters. They're not designed to tabulate absentee ballots in a large number," said Bobbie Egan of King County Elections.

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On top of that, since ballots only have to be postmarked by today, many of them aren't in yet. Those will trickle in over the next four days.

As a result, final results won't be coming quickly.

At 8:15 tonight, king county will have results from the first 100,000 mail ballots.

Then, election workers have to stop absentee ballot counting completely while they upload poll returns.

- 10:30 pm - First poll returns (5 percent precincts reporting)

- 11:30 pm - 35 percent poll returns

- 12:30 am - 75 percent poll returns

- 1:30 am - 98 - 100 percent poll returns

Then it's back to counting absentee ballots - about 90,000 a day. In one week, about 97 percent of them should be counted.

Elections officials are aware that people want results right away, but after some problems in the past, they've decided speed should not be the priority.

"So it's a little later than maybe four years ago but our emphasis is on accuracy," said Egan.

Tacoma confusion

In Tacoma, there was confusion and long lines at the precinct at Bethany Lutheran, which was shut down for 10 minutes while workers reorganized.

The problems were apparently caused by the decision to close a nearby precinct because of lack of voter turnout in past elections. But given this historic election, more people than expected turned up to vote. To manage the crowds, precinct workers gave out numbers.

Charles Moore said he'd been waiting for hours.

"About a half an hour ago, they said they're no longer going by numbers. I have a heart condition and I can't stand in that line. And the line just keeps going and going so I guess I just lose my vote," he said.

Overwhelmed by the crowd, precinct manager Brian Egan struggled to bring calm and called for help from his elections auditor.

"I'm attempting to get people who have the numbers further up I the line so that they can get through faster than people who don't have numbers," he said. "But at the same time we're having trouble with our audio units and we're also having problems getting people done with their provisional voting."

"So now there's hundreds of us that haven't voted, literally, I'v e seen people that's got numbers up to 400 and I'm 295, and 157 just got out of here," said Dean North.

"This is what happens when we have Democracy. It gets a little messy once in a while," Election Auditor Pat McCarthy told the crowd. "So let's just be patient and everybody's going to get a chance to vote."

Large turnout expected

Secretary of State Sam Reed predicts 83 percent turnout statewide -- about 3 million people -- so about 53 percent of the expected voters have sent back their ballots.

Thirty-seven of the state's 39 counties are voting entirely by mail. King and Pierce Counties still have poll sites, though a majority of voters in those counties already vote by mail.

King County, the state's most populous county, has 1.1 million voters and is predicting an 85 percent turnout. Some counties are predicting a turnout as high as 90 percent.

The average statewide general election turnout since 1936 is 78.85 percent. The record turnout in modern times was 84.5 percent in 1944.

King County elections officials said they plan to be able to count all the expected 286,800 poll votes on Election Day, as well as 100,000 mail ballots. Following that, they expect to count 90,000 to 100,000 mail votes daily.

State Elections Director Nick Handy has cautioned that voters shouldn't expect to know definitive results on Election Night because King County's results will come in slower than the rest of the state.

Remember, if you're mailing an absentee ballot today, it must be postmarked today.

Last year, nearly 6,000 King County voters alone dropped their absentee ballots in the mail after that mailbox had its last pick up.

Election coverage begins on KING 5 at 4 p.m. with NBC's election coverage. At 7 p.m., join's Webcast. When the polls in Washington, Idaho and Oregon close at 8 p.m., KING 5 News expands to wall-to-wall coverage on KONG 6/16.