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Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

King County Elections Director Julie Wise says that her team is seeing record early turnout

Yes­ter­day, like it does in advance of every elec­tion, King Coun­ty Elec­tions con­duct­ed a Log­ic & Accu­ra­cy Test wit­nessed by the Office of the Sec­re­tary of State, par­ty elec­tion observers, and media representatives.

The test, which was rou­tine and went off with­out a hitch, also afford­ed media out­lets an oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the staff of Elec­tions in action at their Ren­ton head­quar­ters and get Direc­tor Julie Wise’s take on recent events.

Below, you’ll find our inter­view with Direc­tor Wise in its entire­ty. Click “Play” if you’d like to watch it or scroll down below the video play­er to read it.

Complete transcript

NPI: We’re here with Julie Wise, the King Coun­ty Direc­tor of Elec­tions. It’s the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; it’s an excit­ing time. Julie, can you describe what just hap­pened today? And what vot­ers can expect as they return their ballots?

JULIE WISE: Here at King Coun­ty Elec­tions head­quar­ters, we just com­plet­ed our offi­cial Log­ic and Accu­ra­cy test, where we’re [doing our] final test and vet­ting of the tab­u­la­tion sys­tem that is going to scan all of our bal­lots here in King Coun­ty. The test was suc­cess­ful, and now we are able to start pro­cess­ing bal­lots all the way through to scan­ning. That means that come Elec­tion Night, we’re going to have our results, of course, and with the num­ber of returns we’re see­ing already, we’re like­ly to see some real­ly mean­ing­ful elec­tion night results.

NPI: Now, how many peo­ple have vot­ed already?

JULIE WISE: We have seen near­ly three hun­dred thou­sand bal­lots [come] back here to King Coun­ty Elec­tions head­quar­ters. We had a lot of activ­i­ty at our drop box­es over the week­end, but a lot of activ­i­ty as well as the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, as vot­ers are return­ing their bal­lots in droves.

NPI: So is that turnout of almost twen­ty percent?

JULIE WISE: Almost 20%? I think was it sev­en­teen per­cent? Okay. Wow.

NPI: It’s amazing.

JULIE WISE: That is amaz­ing. We only have a mil­lion more to go.

NPI: So there’s two more weeks left. If vot­ers are con­cerned about how they return their bal­lot, what options do they have?

JULIE WISE: If vot­ers are con­cerned about how to return their bal­lot, they can either use [drop box­es or] the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice with extra track­ing, [more] than they’ve ever seen before. So, we have an intel­li­gent mail bar­code on every sin­gle piece. Not only [do we know if it] has it made its way to the vot­er, we know nine­ty-nine per­cent of our vot­ers received their bal­lot with­in just a few days. But also when it comes back to us. In fact, our bal­lot track­er is going to tell you when the USPS antic­i­pates it being back in our hands here.

So, we have more track­ing than ever for our vot­ers, [so they] feel com­fort­able with it. We also have, of course, web cam­eras where you can watch the team here hard at work; [we’re] not doing as many tours as we’ve done in the past. Vot­ers should also know that the polit­i­cal par­ty observers are on hand when­ev­er we’re pro­cess­ing bal­lots here at our elec­tion head­quar­ters as well as our vote cen­ters and our drop boxes.

NPI: Excel­lent. How high do you think turnout could get in the election?

JULIE WISE: You know, we chal­lenge King Coun­ty vot­ers to a nine­ty per­cent turnout, which is a bit of a sort of auda­cious goal if you will, but vot­ers are up for it. We can feel that ener­gy and excitement.

We’ve already seen a twen­ty per­cent turnout so far. So we need anoth­er mil­lion bal­lots back in the next cou­ple of weeks to get to that nine­ty per­cent vot­er turnout. Pret­ty typ­i­cal of King Coun­ty vot­ers to real­ly want to make sure that their voic­es are heard in elec­tions, espe­cial­ly our pres­i­den­tial elections.

So would­n’t be a sur­prise to see an eighty-five per­cent turnout, but I think King Coun­ty vot­ers are going to show up like they nev­er have before, and break a lot of records. Like they are already off to a great start.

NPI: Would you say that this elec­tion is just water­shed in terms of its scope, and the inter­est, and the inten­si­ty, and oth­er characteristics?

JULIE WISE: I think that there is just this ener­gy and buzz. I can feel it here at the elec­tions facil­i­ty. We real­ly feed off of our vot­ers’ excite­ment and ener­gy and pas­sion for the elec­tions. We’ve had a lot of time talk­ing about it lead­ing up into this impor­tant elec­tion cycle. Also, we’ve been busy with a cou­ple oth­er elec­tions this year as well. And we’ve seen record turnout here in King Coun­ty, not just in the pres­i­den­tial, but in our [Top Two] elec­tion, too. We should­n’t for­get we saw a fifty-six per­cent turnout when past records show us it should be in the thirties.

King County Elections Director Julie Wise

King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise kicks off a Log­ic & Accu­ra­cy Test at the agen­cy’s Ren­ton head­quar­ters (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

NPI: That’s incred­i­ble. Now, have peo­ple from oth­er states tak­en notice of what we’re doing here in Wash­ing­ton? Are you get­ting any calls from elec­tions offi­cials in oth­er states at the local lev­el or at the state lev­el? What are they asking?

JULIE WISE: We had a cou­ple dozen juris­dic­tions start reach­ing out to us back in March as they pre­pared to see more vote by mail bal­lots in their juris­dic­tions for this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, or as they moved to vote by mail.

We are hap­py to sup­port and pro­vide any sort of doc­u­ment [or] pro­ce­dures to real­ly help these juris­dic­tions as they move to vote by mail. We’ve been at it for a decade. Many of our vot­ers have been vot­ing via vote by mail for many decades. So, we do have that exper­tise, and we are known as a leader in the coun­try for run­ning accu­rate, secure, acces­si­ble, vote-by-mail elec­tions. So we’re hap­py to help, and hap­py to see this be the tip­ping point for vote by mail.

NPI: And I sup­pose that would include our vot­er intent manual.

JULIE WISE: That would include our vot­er intent man­u­al. I love that Wash­ing­ton State takes the time. We say, we know that you’re excit­ed about the bal­lot results, but we want to take the time and make sure that your vote is count­ed how you intend­ed it. It might take us a lit­tle bit longer, but we’re going to make sure to open up that nine­ty page vot­er intent man­u­al that all thir­ty-nine coun­ties here in Wash­ing­ton State use to make sure that we’re all count­ing bal­lots the same way.

NPI: Final­ly, we’ve had a lot of leg­is­la­tion in recent years to reform our elec­tion sys­tem and make it even eas­i­er to vote, remov­ing bar­ri­ers. Past advances have includ­ed pre­paid postage, which your team led the way on a cou­ple of years ago. We’ve also seen auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, same day reg­is­tra­tion, pre-reg­is­tra­tion. One thing that peo­ple are now talk­ing about is per­haps improv­ing the bal­lot secu­ri­ty. We asked vot­ers statewide if they would like to move the sig­na­ture block off the return enve­lope and per­haps some­where else, like onto the bal­lot [secu­ri­ty] sleeve. Do you think that’s logis­ti­cal­ly fea­si­ble, or would we have to change our pro­ce­dures in order to accom­plish that?

JULIE WISE: We would def­i­nite­ly have to change our pro­ce­dures and re-look at how we uti­lize equip­ment. It would be a big change for us here at King Coun­ty. We’re always open to the con­ver­sa­tion. We want to make sure that peo­ple feel that they can cast their vote in a secure and a pri­vate manner.

That’s why — one of the rea­sons why — we real­ly want­ed to imple­ment drop box­es… [so that] vot­ers could feel com­fort­able not hav­ing their sig­na­ture going through the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, though it is secure there as well, but they can put it right in the hands of King Coun­ty Elections.

But if we want to have more con­ver­sa­tion about that sig­na­ture, because it cre­ates con­cern, we’re always wel­come to have that. But it would be a sig­nif­i­cant change, and I would imag­ine prob­a­bly a sig­nif­i­cant dol­lar amount asso­ci­at­ed with it.

NPI: Great. Thank you. Julie. Best of luck as you count the ballots.

JULIE WISE: Thank you so much for being here. Real­ly appre­ci­ate it.

NPI: All right. Take care.

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  1. King Coun­ty vot­ers, let’s see that record turnout! 

    # by Letcia Cruce :: October 31st, 2020 at 6:11 PM
  2. Won­der how high the turnout will end up… 

    # by Arielle Rhea :: November 2nd, 2020 at 9:38 AM
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