By Lynnwood Times Staff
Editor’s Note: Pictures are from a Lynnwood Times 2019 Primary Election article.
As of Monday morning, a record 72.7% or 3,545,289 of the 4,877,969 ballots have been returned throughout Washington state. This represents a 1.3 million or 39% increase in ballot returns when compared to this time for the 2016 General Election. A total of 181,849 more residents have voted by this time in 2020 than for all the 2016 General Election.
Jefferson County leads the state with 82.7% of returned ballots. According to the Snohomish County Elections’ website, as of Tuesday morning, has received a record 73.85% or 399,775 of ballots mailed. This would equated to a 30.9% increase in voter turnout for Snohomish County when compared to this time for the 2016 General Election.
2020 General Election Ballot Returns by County, WA Secretary of State
|County||Total Ballots||Ballots Received||% Received|
Snohomish County Elections has hired over 200 seasonal workers to ensure every legitimate vote is counted. In an interview with the Lynnwood Times, Garth Fell, Snohomish County Auditor, predicts a 90% voter turnout for the county.
County employees pick up all the ballots placed at ballot drop-boxes, and the United States Postal Service picks up the ballots that are placed in blue boxes. All envelopes are sent to Seattle for sorting, and then to the county office in Everett.
The ballot counting process begins with county employees checking signatures on the envelopes. All the people in this process have gone through training with the Washington State Patrol in signature-matching. If there is an issue with the signature, including a mismatch or even a missing signature, the voter is contacted and has until the day before the election certifies to resolve the issue. After a batch of envelopes have been checked for signatures, the batch is securely bundled and taken across the street in a truck. It is there that the rest of the process will take place.
All the envelopes go through a high-speed scanner to confirm the number of ballots in the batch and to scan the voter ID barcode so each voter gets marked that they voted. After being scanned, envelopes are sliced open by a large machine before going to the teams that remove the ballots from the envelopes.
In teams of two, processing teams take the secrecy sleeves out of the signature envelope. This cuts the tie of the voter to their ballot, so from this point forward, each ballot is completely anonymous. After all signature envelopes are empty and set aside, then the teams remove the ballots from the secrecy sleeves.
The next step is the visual inspection of each ballot. Workers need to make sure that the marks on the ballot will be picked up by the scanning system. They count the number of ballots, and before the ballots go to the scanning process, another worker will come by and double-check the ballot counting numbers to confirm once more.
The ballot-scanning process is done on consumer-grade scanners, but each connected laptop has special software installed. Additionally, none of the scanners or laptops are connected to the internet; the laptops are connected to the server in the room. The server is locked behind a chain-link fence that requires two employees to unlock. No one individual can enter.
All the digital scans are sent to adjudication systems. All these systems require passwords, and only a limited amount of staff have access to the building. The building is also equipped with multiple security cameras and an alarm system that is separate from the county’s alarm system.
At the adjudication systems, staff review images that the system couldn’t read. This can be many things including a voter filling in two bubbles, crossing a choice out, not filling in anything or even something like the bottom of the ballot being torn.
State law states that voter intent is what truly matters. This means if someone consistently put an “x” by each candidate instead of filling in the bubble, or write-in their candidate’s name, their vote will still count. Staff can fix things like this so the vote is still counted, even though the machine wouldn’t read it.
All the results are kept on the server, which, like almost everything else, is not connected to the internet. Backups of the server are made each night in case anything happens and are taken to confidential locations.
Only one computer is connected to the internet, since that is how election results are uploaded. The results are copied from the served to a USB drive, and the USB drive is connected to the computer. After the results are updated, the USB drive is wiped with a Department of Defense level wiping system before it can be used on the server again. This is to prevent any potential viruses.
Staff continue to count ballots until all the ballots are counted, even if a candidate concedes.
If you have any questions about participating in this year or need further assistance, please contact Snohomish County Elections at 425-388-3444 or go here: https://snohomishcountywa.gov/224/Elections-Voter-Registration.