NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

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 kingcounty.gov/elections.

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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