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Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

NPI talks to King County Elections Director Julie Wise about the 2018 general election

Edi­tor’s Note: We’re two weeks out from Gen­er­al Elec­tion Day 2018. As required by law, King Coun­ty Elec­tions has con­duct­ed its pre­elec­tion Log­ic & Accu­ra­cy Test. I observed the test and after­wards spoke to Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise about prepa­ra­tions for the 2018 Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion, bal­lot secu­ri­ty, and reforms like pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes that are mak­ing it eas­i­er to vote. This inter­view has been light­ly edit­ed for clarity. 

NPI’s ANDREW VILLENEUVE: Hi, Julie. Last time we talked, King Coun­ty Elec­tions had just announced pre­paid postage [on bal­lot return envelopes], and we’ve [now] had a first elec­tion with that. What were the results? Was it a success?

JULIE WISE: Yeah, it was a great suc­cess! We saw approx­i­mate­ly four to five per­cent increase in turnout in the [Top Two] elec­tion that I real­ly attribute to pre­paid postage. I real­ly don’t see any sort of oth­er issues on a [Top Two] bal­lot that would lead vot­ers to have vot­ed in a high­er per­cent­age, or turned out in a high­er per­cent­age. So it was a great success.

And we also saw that vot­ers’ behav­ior changed. Where [pre­vi­ous­ly] fifty per­cent of vot­ers were return­ing bal­lots through a drop box and [fifty per­cent] through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, [we saw] sev­en­ty per­cent of vot­ers return­ing [their bal­lots] through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice instead.

So that, and, we did­n’t see any issues through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice. USPS did an awe­some job of mak­ing sure that we received bal­lots with­out any delay, and there were no issues. So, to me, that’s a win.

NPI: So even though we had more drop box­es avail­able, peo­ple real­ly grav­i­tat­ed more towards the Postal Service.

JULIE WISE: Yes. I was quite amazed myself, is that yes, absolute­ly… we saw vot­ers return­ing more through the Postal Ser­vice rather than our drop boxes.

NPI: Do we have any usabil­i­ty research or any feed­back that indi­cates vot­ers under­stood the mes­sag­ing that was present in their bal­lot pack­ets — that they could now return a bal­lot with­out a stamp?

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. I don’t have nec­es­sar­i­ly spe­cif­ic data — but what I do know is that my team and I would go through batch­es and batch­es of bal­lots that were being returned through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, and in each tray of over two-hun­dred and fifty bal­lots, we would see maybe one bal­lot that had an actu­al stamp affixed to it. Which to me real­ly says that they saw the infor­ma­tion, and heard that postage was already pro­vid­ed, because often­times, we actu­al­ly see when we get bal­lots back from our drop box­es that they have stamps on them.

And I don’t know if that’s because peo­ple think that they need­ed to have a stamp, or if that’s because they were going to go to the post office, then ran out of time, and then went to the drop box instead.

NPI: Right, that could be.

Now, with respect to pre­paid postage, again, we’re now in the gen­er­al elec­tion. And so this is our first gen­er­al elec­tion with all pre­paid postage. What are your expec­ta­tions? Do you have any thoughts about what the turnout could be, ver­sus, let’s say 2014, which would be the last com­pa­ra­ble election?

JULIE WISE: Yeah. I think we’re going to see a high­er turnout. I think that that can be attrib­uted to excite­ment around the actu­al races and issues on the bal­lot. But I also think that we have removed a real bar­ri­er. [Whether] it’s per­ceived or not, it is a real bar­ri­er to many peo­ple who sim­ply just do not have a stamp.

And even though we’ve added more and more drop box­es — and we have, again, six­ty-six drop box­es across King Coun­ty, and we know about nine­ty-five per­cent of our vot­ers have a drop box with­in a two-mile radius of their res­i­dence — we know that remov­ing that bar­ri­er and increas­ing that access is what we need to be doing as elec­tion offi­cials to ensure that every­one has access to the bal­lot box, and that every­one has their voic­es heard. So it’s just the right thing to do. I hope to see a high­er per­cent turnout then we’re fore­cast­ing right now, which is six­ty percent.

I’m hope­ful that we’ll see even high­er than that. And I think we’ll con­tin­ue to see vot­er behav­ior be return­ing their bal­lot ear­li­er, and through the Post Office.

NPI: Next year, we’re imple­ment­ing anoth­er bar­ri­er removal — same-day reg­is­tra­tion. How is that going to go?

I mean, do you think your office is ready for that?

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. We’re real­ly excit­ed. We’ve been, of course, plan­ning for a year already. We have anoth­er year before that… actu­al­ly, about about six months before that’s actu­al­ly imple­ment­ed. So we will be hav­ing acces­si­ble vot­ing cen­ters, where you will be able to actu­al­ly reg­is­ter to vote at across King County.

So we will have vote cen­ters in Belle­vue, Seat­tle, Ren­ton, Kent, and Fed­er­al Way, where vot­ers can go in and get reg­is­tered, includ­ing on Elec­tion Day.

And I think that, that again is a great bar­ri­er to remove, because peo­ple are not always think­ing about [an] elec­tion thir­ty days before the election.

So hav­ing that same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion will absolute­ly increase access and increase oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple to vote.

NPI: [Begin­ning in 2019], if some­one has not reg­is­tered in advance of the elec­tion… let’s say it’s Elec­tion Day and they want to vote: Do they have to go to the acces­si­ble vot­ing cen­ter, or can they reg­is­ter online?

JULIE WISE: So yeah, that’s [going to] be real­ly great for next year.

When [the Access to] Democ­ra­cy Pack­age is imple­ment­ed, includ­ing pre­reg­is­tra­tion of six­teen and sev­en­teen year olds, and same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, and auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, they will be able to reg­is­ter online up to eight days before the elec­tion date, which is awesome.

Because right now, that dead­line is twen­ty-nine days before the elec­tion date. So that’s going to increase a lot of access and the rea­son why we did that is so that we make sure that audi­tors and elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors across the state still have time to be able to enter all of those new vot­er reg­is­tra­tions. So that’s why we gave [admin­is­tra­tors] an eight-day win­dow before Elec­tion Day, but I think it’s a real­ly excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for vot­ers to be able to just have more access.

NPI: So if you reg­is­ter on Elec­tion Day, you would do so at one of the cen­ters, and have to go there in order to do it that day, or in the imme­di­ate week pri­or to Elec­tion Day. So peo­ple would just have to find the near­est one to them.

And then they would go there.

JULIE WISE: Yes. If they did­n’t do it online before, you know, the eight days before Elec­tion Day, then they would have to go in per­son to one of those locations.

NPI: But there’s more loca­tions [planned] than there have been up to this point.

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. Yes. We [will] be adding more loca­tions, and, I real­ly think the mes­sage will be, for us to our vot­ers, I think across the state is, to don’t wait until Elec­tion Day to get reg­is­tered — reg­is­ter soon.

But, absolute­ly, they’ll be a lot of access and oppor­tu­ni­ties across the coun­ty for peo­ple to be able to get registered.

And even for this gen­er­al elec­tion, you know, peo­ple still have time. We have anoth­er week until the in-per­son dead­line to be registered.

That’s [Mon­day] Octo­ber 29th, so vot­ers still have time for this gen­er­al midterm elec­tion, if they’re not cur­rent­ly a Wash­ing­ton State vot­er, to go to Seat­tle or Ren­ton to the elec­tions offices [dur­ing busi­ness hours] to register.

NPI: So two choices.

JULIE WISE: Two choices.

NPI: Now, today, we did the Log­ic and Accu­ra­cy Test. I think there’s a lot of con­fu­sion about what that is. Can you just explain, very broad­ly, what it is?

Because there are peo­ple who think it’s some­thing that it isn’t.

JULIE WISE: Right. So every sin­gle coun­ty — all thir­ty-nine coun­ties across Wash­ing­ton State — are required to con­duct a Log­ic and Accu­ra­cy Test pri­or to each elec­tion. The Sec­re­tary of State’s office sends rep­re­sen­ta­tives from their office to come to each of the elec­tions offices.

This [test] is a pre­de­ter­mined matrix by the Sec­re­tary of State’s office of how many bal­lots, how many are marked for the first posi­tion, or the sec­ond posi­tion, of those dif­fer­ent choic­es on each race — and they come, the Sec­re­tary of State’s office comes with that matrix, and we run the bal­lots through our scan machines.

These are test bal­lots that have been pre­filled out to meet that matrix that has been required by the Sec­re­tary of State’s office. We run those sam­ple test bal­lots through our scan­ners to ver­i­fy that they are cal­i­brat­ed cor­rect­ly, work­ing cor­rect­ly, and prop­er­ly scan­ning in the ovals. So it’s one of many tests.

We also do a [sep­a­rate exer­cise dur­ing which we put] tens of thou­sands of bal­lots through all of our scan­ners pri­or to the Log­ic and Accu­ra­cy Test.

We also do anoth­er test dur­ing the elec­tion… I would basi­cal­ly call it a hand man­u­al recount [sim­u­la­tion], where we phys­i­cal­ly pull out thou­sands of bal­lots, and we are man­u­al­ly recount­ing real actu­al live bal­lots from vot­ers, and mak­ing sure that they were actu­al­ly count­ed correctly.

NPI: So what peo­ple should know is that this is one of the bat­tery of tests; it is only a test. There is no infor­ma­tion stored in the sys­tem after the test is over; we’re sim­ply check­ing to make sure the equip­ment works, and every­one should be pleased to hear the tests were successful.

JULIE WISE: Cor­rect. The tests went suc­cess­ful­ly, the machines are count­ing as they should, and it is just a test and only a test with just test ballots.

Of course, we’re start­ing to receive real bal­lots in; we’ve got about two per­cent of bal­lot returns so far. We’ve just received anoth­er 25,000 bal­lots this morning.

So I think that that’s pret­ty good two weeks before Elec­tion Day, but we’re ready to go. We’ve got our sys­tems test­ed and vet­ted; we’ve been work­ing with a whole host of part­ners, from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, FBI, Sec­re­tary of State’s office, King Coun­ty’s IT [Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy], Nation­al Guard.

In fact, we had press con­fer­ence here last week with the Gov­er­nor and the Sec­re­tary of State, Kim Wyman, reas­sur­ing our vot­ers that we’ve been vig­i­lant and we’re watch­ing all of our elec­tion sys­tems, and they’re pre­pared for this election.

NPI: So we’re in one of the key areas of the [King Coun­ty Elec­tions pro­cess­ing] facil­i­ty, and there actu­al­ly are a lot of com­put­ers here, but they’re not con­nect­ed to the Inter­net, and that’s an impor­tant thing that peo­ple should be aware of, right, is that we don’t actu­al­ly con­nect our scan­ning com­put­ers to the Inter­net at all.

JULIE WISE: Yeah, I think it’s a real­ly great point. And I think that, you know, Wash­ing­ton State, and I would say King Coun­ty, is lead­ing, real­ly, an effort of mak­ing sure we’ve got a real­ly secure elec­tion system.

So all of the nine scan­ners are not con­nect­ed to the Inter­net… [they are] air­gapped here at King Coun­ty Elec­tions’ facil­i­ty, where peo­ple can­not hack into our elec­tions sys­tem. I also think it’s real­ly impor­tant to note that though there’s not a per­fect sys­tem, an elec­tion sys­tem, or any sys­tem that I’m aware of — vote-by-mail, I strong­ly believe, is the strongest and most secure elec­tion sys­tem in the entire coun­try, because you have a paper trail. We have a paper trail for everything.

So if you’re going to vote at one of the acces­si­ble vot­ing cen­ters, or you’re going to vote, of course, your paper bal­lot that you receive in the mail, we have those records. And we’ll have records of this elec­tion for twen­ty-two months, so we can go recount, we can look at bal­lots, and we know that they weren’t altered by any sort of equip­ment or machine at a polling place that may be uploaded to a mem­o­ry card, or be trans­mit­ted through the Internet.

NPI: Right. You just men­tioned mem­o­ry cards and ear­li­er, air­gapped [equip­ment]. Do we have any pro­to­cols in place to stop peo­ple from bring­ing, let’s say, unknown USB dri­ves and com­pact discs, or oth­er remov­able media, that they could plug into one of our com­put­ers that’s not con­nect­ed to the Internet?

JULIE WISE: That’s a fan­tas­tic ques­tion. If you look around the actu­al facil­i­ty, you will see secu­ri­ty seals on all of those USB [ports]… any­thing that you could plug into the com­put­ers. All of those por­tals have actu­al­ly been cov­ered and sealed. We also have fifty cam­eras in the facil­i­ty that are mon­i­tor­ing, 247, the activity.

We’re being filmed right now. And in fact, we have a cam­era on us that actu­al­ly [pro­vides live footage through our web­site], so that peo­ple from across the world can watch us actu­al­ly work­ing. So we have lev­els and lev­els and lay­ers and lay­ers of secu­ri­ty here at Elec­tions. But any time we’re tak­ing infor­ma­tion… so, come Elec­tion Night, we’re going to push a but­ton, if you will, that’s going tab­u­late all the results.

NPI: Because no tab­u­la­tion occurs before Elec­tion Night.

JULIE WISE: Cor­rect. Then, at that point, we’re going to open a brand-new USB dri­ve, and we’re going to take the infor­ma­tion — the vote totals — from the tab­u­la­tion room, and bring that to a com­put­er that can then put that infor­ma­tion onto the Inter­net. So, it’s always a brand new one each time, and that, of course, is observed by staff [and] observers.

As you saw today, many observers [were] here watch­ing that process, and there’s only eleven staff mem­bers that are allowed to go into that room. [They] have to be two at a time, [they each] have to use their badge, and bio­met­ric [authen­ti­ca­tion], and cut a seal, and of course they have the cam­era as well, and the video of them.

NPI: So we’ve essen­tial­ly made sure that this sys­tem is iron­clad as we know how to make it. So peo­ple can [feel good] that noth­ing is amiss here.

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. It’s real­ly impor­tant to me that peo­ple have con­fi­dence in the elec­tions sys­tem. One of the things I think that’s real­ly cool, is that King Coun­ty Elec­tions has, lit­er­al­ly, a trans­par­ent loop for vot­ers to come [walk].

So if you want to watch us work­ing on the web cam­eras, you can do that.

But you can also go around a fifth of a mile loop, and actu­al­ly watch the process at any time. In addi­tion to that, we invit­ed the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty in, to do a phys­i­cal audit of this build­ing, to make sure that we have phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty to the lev­el and the stan­dards that are necessary.

They com­pared this elec­tions office — the first elec­tions office that has request­ed an actu­al audit from Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty — to nuclear sites. We are mak­ing sure that this is a secure facil­i­ty, and that we’re pro­tect­ing every­one’s votes and bal­lots. It’s impor­tant to me that vot­ers have trust in that, but of course, don’t take my word for it… come down and see it, watch us on TV.

Check us out on our web­site, about all the dif­fer­ent lev­els and lay­ers and audits and things that we’re doing here to make sure that every vote is kept secure.

NPI: The loop Julie’s talk­ing about is actu­al­ly inside the build­ing. You can actu­al­ly look in through a num­ber of win­dows and you could see what’s going on. And there’s basi­cal­ly a self-guid­ed tour, right, that you can take?

JULIE WISE: There is, there is! So, along the way, there is an actu­al poster talk­ing about what process you are now watch­ing, and you are observing.

And, yeah, like you said, it’s lit­er­al­ly Plex­i­glass walls for a fifth of a mile, where you are watch­ing [any­thing] from sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion — where we’re look­ing at the sig­na­ture on the return enve­lope, and com­par­ing that to the vot­ers’ vot­er reg­is­tra­tion record — to actu­al­ly open­ing bal­lots, to actu­al­ly scan­ning bal­lots. And so vot­ers, cit­i­zens, any­one who wants to can come. We’re here Mon­day through Fri­day, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. You can watch that process.

NPI: One final ques­tion. There was a report com­ing out of Nextdoor about bal­lots pos­si­bly being stolen, which has not been verified.

The City of Sno­qualmie said there was no evi­dence of this; King Coun­ty Elec­tions staff said there was no evi­dence… but peo­ple, obvi­ous­ly, may be feel­ing very anx­ious as we get clos­er to Elec­tion Day, just because of the high stakes, and peo­ple’s feel­ings about the elec­tion. So, if peo­ple, for what­ev­er rea­son, don’t have their bal­lot, or they’re wor­ried that King Coun­ty Elec­tions did­n’t get it when they sent it back in, what should they do?

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. It’s so impor­tant. So, all vot­ers in King Coun­ty should have their bal­lot by now. So we’re two weeks before Elec­tion Day. Every vot­er should have their bal­lot. If they don’t, do one of two things.

Either call us at 206–296-VOTE (8683), or get online at

There’s a real­ly cool MyVot­er infor­ma­tion appli­ca­tion.

You just need to enter your name and your date of birth, and that’s going to tell you when we mailed you your bal­lot, when you should receive it, and it has a great quick link right there to request a replace­ment bal­lot. If you do not have a bal­lot, you need to request a replace­ment one at this point, by call­ing or going online.

NPI: Okay, and if, once they’ve vot­ed, if they are con­cerned that their bal­lot may not have made it back to King Coun­ty, there is some­thing they can do, right?

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly. On our web­site again, you can track your bal­lot. So, as when you see that we sent it out to you, at that same MyVot­er infor­ma­tion appli­ca­tion, you’re going to be able to see when we received it, and that we’ve com­plet­ed the sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion, and that it’s moved on to open­ing and to be count­ed. So it shows you those tracks, those dif­fer­ent steps along the way, which is a real­ly great way to ensure that your bal­lot has been counted.

If you don’t want to get on the Inter­net, you’re wel­come to call our office again at 206–296-VOTE (8683) to make sure that we’ve received your bal­lot. But if any­one has any con­cerns about mail theft in gen­er­al, they need to con­tact their local police and report that. I always encour­age peo­ple.… I myself have a locked mail­box. I think that that’s real­ly impor­tant, just for iden­ti­ty theft in general.

NPI: For future elec­tions: if they want, they can have Elec­tions send them a bal­lot to a post office box, right? They don’t have to receive it at their home address…

JULIE WISE: Absolutely.

NPI: They do have the free­dom to receive it in a locked box at the Post Office.

JULIE WISE: Absolute­ly, wher­ev­er they want us to mail it, as long as we’ve got, you know, a res­i­den­tial address… or, for peo­ple that are expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, a cross street, so that we know what issues you should be vot­ing on where where you live. You know, where you rest your head at night, is real­ly asso­ci­at­ed to those school dis­tricts, cities, but of course, your leg­isla­tive dis­trict, your con­gres­sion­al dis­trict… so we want to make sure that peo­ple get the right bal­lot for them­selves, but absolute­ly, we’ll mail it to wher­ev­er they would like.

NPI: All right. Well, thank you, Julie.

JULIE WISE: Thank you.

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