Turning in a ballot is a key step in the electoral process. Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so blue mailboxes and red county drop boxes take the place of a polling place.

Ballots will be mailed to voters next week in Yakima County. Yolanda Arellano, the bilingual program analyst for Yakima County Elections, shared insight about the voting process from start to finish.

Last week, she answered questions about how to register to vote and fill out a ballot. Here, she covers the basics of submitting a ballot.

This is the second in a three-part series with Arellano to be published throughout the month of October.

How does someone submit their ballot?

We’re encouraging voters to submit their ballot the way they have. Yakima County has been voting by mail for 15 years now, so we have experience and we’re confident that the way you’ve been submitting your ballot for the last 15 years is how you can continue to submit it, which is by mail. You do not need to put postage on the envelope. Postage is (already) paid.

If you prefer to drop your ballot off at one of our drop boxes, there are more than 15 drop boxes across the county. There is a list of those drop boxes in the ballot packet that everyone receives. It will show you the location of the different drop boxes.

But again, we’re encouraging voters to vote the way they have been for years, which is just simply putting that ballot in the mail.

How can you tell if somebody tries to vote more than once?

We (use) a statewide voter database. So all Washington state voters and election administrators are using the same system.

When you request a ballot, any request cancels any previous ballot we have on file for you. For example, you can go online and request or download an online ballot, and there’s a message that appears that lets you know that by doing that, you’re cancelling the (mailed) ballot that everyone automatically receives. So the system knows to only give each voter one valid ballot. You can receive 10 ballots, but our system is only going to accept one of those ballots.

Do I need to be concerned about using the postal service?

This is a really common question we’ve been receiving in the last month or so.

Like I said before, we are a vote-by-mail state. Washington state has been all vote-by-mail since 2011. Yakima County has been vote-by-mail since 2005. So we have a lot of experience in conducting our elections by mail. We have a great working relationship with USPS. We’re confident that not only are they going to ensure that you receive your ballot in a timely manner in order to vote it, but that we are going to receive your ballot in a timely manner in order to count your ballot.

So yes, we encourage voters to continue to use the USPS, but there are other options for those who wish to drop off their ballot at one of our ballot drop boxes.

How do I find a drop box?

ELECTION 2020: Complete coverage

ELECTION 2020: Complete coverage

For all of the Yakima Herald-Republic’s 2020 election coverage, click here. For more information about how we are covering the 2020 election, click here. For more information on how to vote, click here or call 509-574-1340.

There are a couple different ways. You can visit that website VoteWA.gov. Really it’s a personalized voter registration profile, if you may. It lists all the different locations where you can drop your ballot off, it gives a summary of where you’re registered to vote, your address, those kinds of things. But you will receive a list of those ballot drop boxes in the ballot packet encouraging you to visit our website to get a more specific location for dropping off your ballot.

We have five permanent 24/7 drop boxes available, but then there are also drop boxes available inside cities and town halls. So those will be available on Election Day.

There are different options for dropping a ballot off at a ballot drop box, and those locations can be found online, in your ballot packet or (by) calling us, if you prefer.

Tell us more about why some drop boxes aren’t available until Election Day. Is this normal? Is this because of COVID-19?

It’s not normal. Usually all of our drop boxes are open on the 18 days prior to Election Day. But with COVID, there are some city and town halls that have not reopened. So because we rely on our partners in city and town halls, we were able to get them to agree to open on Election Day so there was another option for voters to drop off their ballots.

We heard from citizens and listened to their concerns. Some (drop boxes) are open all 18 days, while some are not open at all. Mabton and Wapato will remain closed, but that could change. We’re hopeful we’ll get a call with a change of mind.

We will be posting sign on the city and town hall boxes that are closed. There will be a sign on their door (listing) the other drop boxes available in the county. We will list the five permanent drop boxes where they can go drop off their ballot and then we also encourage them to drop off their ballot by mail.

Where are the five permanent drop boxes in Yakima County?

There is one here in Yakima, which is the most popular, right across the street from the courthouse. The other four are in the lower valley. One is at the Sunnyside firehouse, one is in Toppenish at the Yakama Nation headquarters office, right across the street from Legends Casino. Then the other two are in White Swan at the fire station and in the community of Parker at the fire station. Those are all permanent, 24/7 drop boxes. They’re already open because military ballots are out.

When are ballots in drop boxes picked up? Explain how this process works.

Next week on Tuesday, two election staff will be traveling all over the county to drop off the boxes at city or town halls, or a sign saying it is only open on Election Day or is closed. Then, we’ll send two staff — it’s always two election staff — who will go and clean out those boxes weekly until Election Day. So the following week, and the following week, and the third week is election week. They would be picked up the day after election day as well.

The ballots are transported in the same fashion they’re transported from the post office every morning. Two election staff ride in the same vehicle.

All (election staff) take an oath. It’s staff who are familiar with the process and who want to ensure, just like anyone else, that those ballots come back to our office as quickly as possible.

Can you tell us about the Sunnyside election center and what happens there?

The Sunnyside satellite office was an idea that the county auditor had a few years back when same-day voter registration was implemented. We heard from the community over the years that because we are a geographically large community, that on Election Day some folks in Grandview, for example, didn’t want to travel 45 minutes on Election Day to register (to vote) and submit a ballot. We worked with the community to see who would be willing to host us for a day. The idea of the satellite office is that it mirrors what we do in Yakima, except for the accessible voting unit (for individuals with disabilities).

It’s meant to be an extension of our office on Election Day for voters in the lower valley so voting is more accessible and transportation is not a burden, or at least not as much of one. It has voter registration for those registering to vote for the first time or transferring their registration to Yakima County, or who ... need a new ballot. It’s a much smaller location, so the wait time may be a little longer, only because of COVID. We can only have so many people in the room at the same time. But we want to make sure that ... all Yakima County voters have the same access to voting without having to make the trip to Yakima.

The satellite office is at Sunnyside Neighborhood Health Services at 617 Scoon Road in Sunnyside, and will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka