We’re lucky in Washington state. We can register to vote online 24/7 or by mail until eight days before an election or in-person through Election Day. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds can register to vote now and receive their first ballot after their eighteenth birthday. Washington is a mail ballot state—one of only five in the country (the others are Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, and Utah). We receive our ballots in the mail about three weeks before each election, along with a postage-paid return envelope. For those unable to use a mail-in ballot, including anyone who will be gone when ballots are mailed, voting can be done in person, early if necessary, at the King County Elections Office. King County offers multiple accessible voting options.
We’re lucky to have all that, along with the knowledge that political leaders of both major parties in Washington state actually want you to vote and all of our local options make it easy to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve probably read in recent weeks that voters in Kentucky are not so lucky—particularly voters of color. Voter suppression is occurring in other states as well, in many forms. Just a few weeks ago, we read about voter suppression in Georgia and Nevada. Onerous registration requirements, no mail-in ballots, insufficient polling places, threats, and intimidation—I find this behavior appalling. And I’m equally sure that the antidote for election officials who do not support voting rights is to vote them out of office.
Primary Election is August 4, General Election is November 3
In King County and Washington state, we have two upcoming elections—Primary Election Day is Tuesday, August 4 (you should receive your ballot shortly after July 15, the day they are mailed) and General Election Day is Tuesday, November 3 (ballots go out October 14). You do not have to wait until election day to cast your ballot and return it. Returning your ballot is easy, too, thanks to postage-paid return envelopes. Some prefer to put their ballot in a ballot drop box. Either way is fine, if your ballot is postmarked or dropped before 8 p.m. on election day. For me personally, earlier is better—both because life is uncertain and because the early returns will include my votes.
Why is it critical that we vote?
If you’re wondering whether your vote makes a difference, I say unequivocally that yes, it does! If you enjoy reading political history, there’s a long list of close elections online and many news stories.
I can point to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Older Americans Act of 1965 (which established Area Agencies on Aging and authorizes funds for many of our programs today, 55 years later), the Medicare and Medicaid amendments to the Social Security Act, and the Voting Rights Act (also 55 years ago) and say that years of work by U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and support from a bipartisan Congress, made those happen. I can point to the Adults with Disabilities Act of 1990 (30 years ago) and thank President George H.W. Bush and members of both parties in Congress. We depend on national acts and I am grateful that voters put the right people in office to get the job done (at least the ones who used their political power to bring these acts into existence). Moreover, I am grateful for the community activists and advocates who put pressure on each president and federal lawmakers to get the job done.
But I want to talk about values that influence elected power. Aging and Disability Services’ mission and values are posted online. I will not tell you exactly how to vote but want to emphasize the importance of voting for candidates and ballot measures that support our values:
- Community partnerships
- Consumer guidance
- Racial equity
- Social justice
Perhaps your values differ from mine and from those of ADS. I understand but also urge you to articulate your values and then take the time to study voter pamphlets, candidate statements, news stories, and more. If you can’t figure out a candidate’s values or think they are not walking their talk, I urge you to contact them directly and call them out.
I think an honest values approach is critical to achieving racial equity, economic and COVID recovery, and a livable community for all ages and abilities. It takes some effort, I know, but—in a very real sense—lives depend on it.
Contributor Cathy Knight directs Aging and Disability Services, a unit of the Seattle Human Services Department designated as the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County.