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Ballot instructions in Pierce County inaccurate, Democrats say

UPDATE: 5:49 pm. Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson tells KUOW that she has reached an agreement with the state Democratic Party because of the threat of the lawsuit.

Anderson says her office will acquiesce to the party's demands and is currently in the process of working out the details. Anderson contends the original mailings did not cause confusion among voters but says she reached the agreement to avoid the possible legal action.

'Mail by November 4 (Stamp required)'

Officials with the Washington State Democrats say instructions issued in Pierce County ballots are confusing and could lead some people not to vote. The party says it will seek a court order if the county auditor doesn’t clarify election deadlines with voters.

A piece of paper accompanying Pierce County mail-in ballots tells voters, “Mail by November 4 (Stamp required.)

Truth is, your ballot will be counted even without postage. And you don’t have to mail it by Nov. 4. But it must be postmarked by election day, Nov. 8.

The Washington Democratic Party says the wording on that insert could cause people not to vote at all after November 4 if they’re not near a ballot drop box.

Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for the state party, said the instruction is misleading and violates state elections law. 

“That’s not complying with the auditor’s legal obligation to instruct the voter that they have until Nov. 8. So it’s really straightforward, that’s the basis," he said at a press conference at his law firm Thursday.

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson responded that they are simply requesting that voters vote early and to make sure their ballots get postmarked in time.

State officials say 11,0000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in 2014, and they're trying to avoid that this time.

After Nov. 4, they recommend placing ballots in a drop box rather than in the mail. Hamilton said if the mailing instructions were more clearly a recommendation than a command, it wouldn’t be a problem. Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens is requesting that Pierce County send a clarifying mailer to voters, issue a press release and make changes to its website – or face a lawsuit.

“If the Pierce County Auditor fails to follow through on these three responsibilities, we will file a court order requiring the Pierce County Auditor’s office to immediately comply with the law," Ravens said. 

The controversy is tied to the race for Washington Secretary of State. Democratic candidate Tina Podlodowski first raised these concerns. The Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson has endorsed Podlodowski’s opponent, Republican incumbent Kim Wyman.

Year started with KUOW: 2005