Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs looks over a box containing 125 unopened general election ballots that were overlooked during last November’s count. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs looks over a box containing 125 unopened general election ballots that were overlooked during last November’s count. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam auditor reviewing procedures after 125 ballots were left out of general election

PORT ANGELES — More than 100 recently discovered ballots from the general election will not be opened or counted, according to Shoona Riggs, Clallam County auditor.

Her office discovered the 125 uncounted ballots from the 2016 November general election on Jan. 25 and is now contacting those voters.

“The right to vote and participate in our democratic process is sacrosanct,” Riggs wrote in a letter mailed to the voters Monday. “You … deserved better.”

The ballots were discovered inside the walk-up election ballot drop box on the east side of the courthouse as officials inspected the county’s four drop boxes ahead of the Feb. 15 election.

The ballots appear to have been deposited between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 8, she said.

Had they been deposited in the county’s drive-through drop box several yards away from the walk-up box, they would have been counted.

“It was missed,” she said Wednesday. “We are reviewing our policies and procedures.”

The other two drop boxes are in Sequim and Forks.

No similar issues were discovered in Jefferson County, according to the auditor’s office.

While the Clallam votes would not have changed the outcomes of the election, Riggs called it an “unfortunate and egregious failure” of the election process.

The certified returns for Clallam County report that 41,042 votes were cast during the 2016 general election, with the closest contested race — the gubernatorial race — being resolved by a margin of 754 votes.

Others were resolved by a margin of about 1,200 or more, she said.

The recently discovered ballots will not count because Clallam County and the state have already certified election results.

The 125 voters’ records will reflect that they participated in the election, but the auditor’s office will not open their ballots, she said.

Instead, the county will keep the ballots during the 22-month retention-period following the election, she said.

“We just can’t open their ballots and tally their votes for each office,” she said. “We can’t change those election results.”

Riggs, who has overseen the election process for 10 years and worked in the auditor’s office for 20 years, said she does not recall any time when ballots were discovered after an election had already been certified.

Current procedures require staff to lock up the drop boxes at 8 p.m. on election night. All boxes are then emptied the next morning.

She is now considering requiring staff to double-check the drop boxes and is looking into a post-Election Day audit of all drop boxes before certification.

“We’re looking at a final check before we do certification,” she said.

She has also invited the secretary of state’s office to do an out-of-cycle election review and audit, Riggs said.

Typically, the reviews are done every five years, with the most recent being done three years ago, she said.

The review will be done either in the primary election or general election this year, though she won’t know for sure until candidates file for election.

At least half the county needs to participate in the primary for the state to do the audit at that time, Riggs said.

“I regret this sad event and will labor to restore your confidence in my office and our election practices,” she wrote in the letter to voters.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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