About 3.9 million people are registered to vote in Washington, and Secretary of State Sam Reed has predicted voter turnout will be at 81 percent, a bit lower than the state's record of 85 percent in 2008. The historic average is 79 percent. King County, home to about 1 million registered voters, is projecting 87 percent turnout.

Under state law, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, but voters also have the option of dropping off ballots at local drop boxes. Reed has predicted that up to 60 percent of the expected vote will be counted by election night, leaving another 40 percent of ballots to be counted, either en route by mail or left at the drop boxes counties have set up.

As of Monday afternoon, about 1.8 million ballots had been returned to the state's 39 county auditors.

After the 8 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, each Washington county will issue one report. The first counties will start to report shortly after 8 p.m., with all counties done reporting by shortly after 9 p.m. (A few counties issue second reports later in the evening, but the number of votes included in these supplemental reports are few in number and will not affect the statewide margins).

King County is one of three Washington counties that processes its own election returns; most counties rely on the Secretary of State's office to process returns. What this means is that King's vote results will show up on the county's website before they are incorporated on the Secretary of State's official elections site.

In the August primary, there was a 20-minute delay between King posting its returns online and those numbers being added to the official statewide tally. And King's numbers in the primary changed a 4-point lead for Rob McKenna to a 4-point deficit. The takeaway: Conclusions about winners and losers in the statewide races aren't able to be drawn until King's numbers are added to the Secretary of State's tally.

And even after King's numbers are in, it will be too soon for close races to be called ... because Washington allows ballots to be mailed up until the last minute. Only 60 percent of so of all ballots are likely to be counted on election night.

The rest of the ballots will arrive in the mail in the coming days. Counties will update their tallies each day as ballots arrive in the mail.

December 6 is the last day for the Office of the Secretary of State to certify the returns.

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