Voter participation rises in Washington since becoming a mail-in - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Voter participation rises in Washington since becoming a mail-in ballot state

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PASCO, Wash.-- Election day is just a week away now and thousands of voters are already turning in their ballots.

Washington and Oregon are the only states that are entirely vote by mail and it's making a big difference in voter turn out. Mail-in ballots are making a big impact in our state and the changes are significant when it comes to cost and voter turn out.

Washington Secretary of State, Sam Reed, says mail-in voting is increasing voter participation and voters are more informed.

"I've found that because people can be better prepared to vote by having the ballot at home and their voters pamphlet there, being able to look on the websites and such, that we are getting increased participation," Reed said.

Voter participation has jumped since Washington moved to all mail-in voting in 2006. In fact, Washington has the largest number of registered voters in state history with 3.9 million.

"The state of Washington has gone from 14th, 15th in the country up to 1st or 2nd in the country in terms of participation of registered voters," Reed said.

From the 2004 election when polls were still open to the 2008 election when the state was all mail-in ballots, Franklin County saw an 8 percent increase in participation. In Benton County it jumped 6 percent.

Officials often hear from voters that they like mail-in ballots, but some parts of the population prefer the polls.

"Older people that went to poll sites enjoyed visiting with the repeat poll workers, enjoyed the civic tradition of going out on election night," said Matt Beaton, Franklin County Auditor.

But the chances of going back to polling places are low because the state saw increased savings by not having to hire poll workers and rent space.

"Because of cost saving associated with the vote by mail and the current budget times, the chances are very slim to none that Washington state will even consider going back," Beaton said.

Secretary of State Sam Reed says he's expecting another near-record turnout this year. Now, a federal law requires voting by email be available for military voters. Washington's Co-Director of Elections tells me it's not a matter of if, but when that online option will be available for all voters.