Was your ballot envelope already sealed? You’re not alone

Dozens report obstacle to submitting ballots.

Some Kitsap County voters are reporting problems with their election mailers that may add an additional hurdle to the voting process. Dozens of people have contacted the county elections office with reports that the return envelopes were already sealed, according to a Kitsap County elections division spokesperson.

The premature sealing is caused by moisture seeping through the election mail packet and reacting with the adhesive glue on the return envelope inside, according to Steve Gardner, a spokesperson for the county.

“The longer it stays in the envelope, the more likely it is to happen,” Gardner said. “This happens every election.”

He said the calls and emails with complaints and questions regarding the pre-sealing have “been noticeable” this year.

“It’s in the dozens,” he said. “Not in the hundreds.”

Among the worries expressed by voters was whether using scotch tape would invalidate their ballot. Gardner assured voters it would not.

If, however, in the process of tearing open the return envelope, the declaration portion on the back of the envelope is damaged, the voter will have to get new materials.

“If there is a situation where somebody can’t seal it or can’t unseal it gently without ruining the envelope, we’re happy to replace it,” Gardner said.

Washington is one of three states nationwide that utilizes a vote-by-mail system in 100 percent of its counties, according to the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for vote-by-mail systems. Eleven states use vote-by-mail in some counties.

This year, 168,827 voters are registered for the midterms in Kitsap County, election officials said, a significant uptick from 2014, which had 154,462 registrations. Auditor Dolores Gilmore said she expects turnout to be between 65 to 70 percent.

In Washington’s vote-by-mail system, ballots are sent to all registered voters weeks before the election, along with a pre-stamped return envelope, a “secrecy sleeve” to protect voting privacy and a card with ballot dropbox locations. Voters place completed ballots into the return envelope provided and either mail them or place them in one of several dropboxes scattered throughout the county. Ballots must be postmarked by election day or placed in a dropbox by 8 p.m.

Earlier this year, Governor Jay Inslee approved $1.2 million to include postage on all return envelopes in the state outside of King County, which already supplied postage.

Gardner said the county is always looking for ways to improve its vote-by-mail system, implemented in 2005.

“If there’s a way to improve on that, we’ll look into it,” he said. “It’s one of the many things we’ll look as ways to improve the voter experience.”

He recommended four solutions for voters facing sealed return envelopes:

— Carefully tear open the return envelope, and use tape to reseal it (note: if the “declaration” on the envelope is damaged, it should not be used)

— Visit the Kitsap County Administration Building at 619 Division Street, in Port Orchard, for new voting materials.

— Vote online at https://wa.liveballot.com/kitsap. Once the ballot is filled out, voters can print it and either mail it or place it in a dropbox (no postage necessary)

— Vote in person until 8 p.m. on election day, either at the Kitsap County Administration Building at 619 Division Street, Port Orchard or at Olympic College in Poulsbo, 1000 Olympic College Way, Poulsbo