The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Washington state intends to move ahead with a new voter-registration system ahead of the Aug. 6 primary despite concerns from election officials in a handful of counties about problems they’ve encountered.
A steering committee of state and county election officials — which included Secretary of State Kim Wyman — made the decision.
Concerns stem from the transition from the previous system to the new $9.5 million project, called VoteWA, The Seattle Times reported.
In addition to shutting down the state’s online voter-registration system for roughly a month — about two weeks longer than planned — some counties said they encountered issues when they made the switch.
Those issues included apartment numbers for voter addresses not appearing, address formatting and problems with translating materials in various languages.
Ballots for overseas and military voters started going out in the mail last week. Because of the new system’s problems with those, workers in King and Thurston counties had to manually correct many overseas addresses before they went out.
Spokane County has also created workarounds to handle problems related to ballot bar codes and to email electronic ballots that go to some overseas voters, according to Auditor Vicky Dalton.
“Unit and apartment numbers were missing when doing data validation but we were able to have the state do a mass update to address this issue” before any military and overseas ballots went out, said Shoona Riggs, Clallam County auditor on Thursday.
Jefferson County has not experienced any problems with the new system said Betty Johnson, election coordinator.
“Our military and overseas ballots went out without any modifications or work-arounds from us,” she said.
She said the new software application is a new way of doing things, but that she doesn’t foresee a problem on election night for the small county.
What could impact ballot counts, however, is a new state law that allows same-day voter registration, she said.
“That’s going to impact how many ballots are counted on election night,” although it might not be an issue until the November general election.
The Secretary of State’s Office has said problems in the counties that experienced them have been fixed and the system is ready to go. And county officials acknowledge that such problems are the sort of bugs that any ambitious software overhaul could reveal in a testing phase.
But elections officials say they’re also concerned because they didn’t get to test every component of the new system ahead of the primary.
“We’re using the primary election as a test environment, which is not how it’s usually done,” said Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall.
Dalton said voters in her county should expect to see fewer ballots counted than usual on election night. If people must register to vote or change their address, they should do so earlier rather than later, she added.
For years, elections officials have discussed the idea of centralizing some of the work currently undertaken by each of Washington’s 39 counties and Hall and others say they’re excited about VoteWA.
It ultimately will allow counties to better work together and help the state implement the new same-day voter registration law, which takes effect with this primary.
Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary, one of the project’s leaders, said he understands that some counties might be nervous, but “I’m also confident in the VoteWA system and being able to conduct our primary.”
The general consensus has been to test the new system this year, said Neary, which is an off-year election cycle with fewer races.