Elections officers describe ballot handling process
October 29, 2020
As of Tuesday, the Wahkiakum County Auditor’s Office had received a little more than 40 percent of the ballots from registered voters.
“We’re excited about the turnout,” Deputy Auditor Kaelee Dearmore said.
The auditor’s office will have extended hours on Election Day next Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Voters can register to vote or update their voter registration in person up until and including Election Day. The auditor’s office will then supply the voter with a ballot.
The election board has already been opening ballots. Usually they receive some outside help, but because of covid-19, Dearmore and Auditor Nicci Bergseng are doing the lion’s share of the work this year.
Regardless of how many ballots they’ve collected from the mail and the ballot boxes each day, whether it’s 23, 8, or 467, the ballots are dealt with in batches of 50.
It goes a little something like this:
They count the batch. Signatures are verified. They open the yellow (or white) envelopes. The yellow envelopes go one way, the pinks go the other. They count the pink envelopes. The number should be the same. They open the pink envelopes, and the pinks go one way, and the ballots go the other.
“That’s how we keep the privacy of the vote, because it never gets tied back to any envelope that it was in,” Dearmore said.
Each batch has a batch slip, which keeps an account of everything. How many of those ballots were accepted, how many of them were challenged because of a signature and were now in hold status, who counted the ballots, who did the signature verification, who was on the opening board when they were opened, when they were opened, etc.
“It’s very secure,” Dearmore said.
The two planned on tackling most of the ballots this week, to ready them for tabulation on Tuesday. Dearmore wasn’t sure exactly when it would get done, but noted that the public is welcome to watch them work, via live-streaming on their website. Interested viewers can go to the Wahkiakum County website, and click on the Auditor’s Election link for more information.
Around noon on Election Day, the Auditor’s Office will have collected that day’s mail and empty the ballot boxes. They will open what they find there, in batches, and those will be added to the count.
Again, the event will be live-streamed on their website; the public is welcome to watch.
After the last of the ballots are ready, the pair will begin to run the batches through the tabulator of their new system, Clear Ballot, which is also keeping count, and sorting the votes.
After the ballots have gone through the tabulator, Bergseng and Dearmore will be able to see if a ballot is unreadable, and work to resolve that issue. They will look for write-ins, and over votes, which they can do with their new software.
“It saves a lot of time and is incredibly efficient,” Dearmore said.
The process is typically completed by normal close of business, but results are redacted from anything they see. The office will remain open to assist voters who have questions, or who still need to register.
At 8 p.m., the numbers go live. They will print a PDF with the results, which is uploaded to http://www.vote.wa.gov, Dearmore said, and they go on a live call with someone from the Washington Secretary of State Office.
“They are checking our totals,” Dearmore said, “we are checking our totals.”
And they wait for the go ahead.
“It’s kind of a crazy time,” Dearmore said. “It’s a huge support for us that they are on a call with all 39 counties that night as we are updating the result total.”
Ballots submitted on Tuesday, after 12 p.m., most likely will be tallied in the second count, expected to take place next Thursday with any mail that is still trickling in post marked November 3. Dearmore said they may count again on November 12, but they certainly will again on November 24, when the vote is certified.