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.
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.
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.