The election process continues to go under a microscope, whether at North Olympic Peninsula courthouses or at countywide ballot boxes.
Clallam County auditor Shoona Riggs and county officials like commissioner Mark Ozias say they’ve made large strides in improving safety and security for elections staff, voters and their votes.
But since the 2020 general election, there have been unsubstantiated concerns nationally about the election process not being secure, according to The Associated Press.
“I totally trust our elections in Washington state from knowing the election process, being a part of it for almost 25 years and seeing the changes,” said Riggs, who is running unopposed for re-election in the Nov. 8 general election.
The Clallam County elections office saw about 70 people register for ballot observation training to watch the process inside the courthouse for the general election. That’s compared with eight to 15 trainings per year in previous years.
Along with that, interest has come for ballot box observers in Clallam County — first seen in the primary election this year — where citizens watch for illegal activity at dropboxes.
Alan Lynn, the Clallam County Republican Party’s election integrity committee chair, said there is a nonpartisan group of people across the county scheduled to watch election boxes — sometimes for hours at a time — looking for abnormal behavior.
“The norm is people pull up, put in a ballot and drive away,” he said. “If someone goes up and puts in 50 or 75 ballots, that’s abnormal. (Observers) would document it.”
Lynn said they’re looking for illegal activity, such as a van blocking access to a ballot box.
“They want to make sure everyone’s safe,” he said. “If something bad happens, they have somebody able to report it.”
The group not affiliated with the Republican Party, Lynn said.
Clallam County Democrat officials say they have not asked people to watch ballot boxes.
Jodi Wilke, Jefferson County Republicans’ vice chair, said her party has representatives observing the election process at the Jefferson County courthouse, but she was “not aware of any plans to do (ballot box observing).”
“We haven’t had any reports of (ballot box observing) in Jefferson County,” said Quinn Grewell, the county’s election coordinator.
Riggs said about 70 percent of ballots come from dropboxes, a number that has dropped slightly since the county started paying for postage for mail-in ballots.
Lynn said he’s been in touch with the independent group, and he said they are asked not to engage people even if community members engage them.
Sequim deputy police chief Mike Hill said patrol officers have not seen any illegal activity around the ballot box and that they continue to patrol and respond to calls.
“We received several calls about different vehicles and they’re parked about 100 feet (away),” Hill said.
“We’ve measured, and we’ve contacted them, and their intent is to observe ballot boxes and see if there are any crimes occurring there or (people) interfering with the election process.”
Hill said reports of “harassment” were of observers sitting in their vehicles, but officers said they haven’t seen anything illegal.
“Harassment isn’t passive … and just sitting in a public place,” he said. “Some people may feel harassed, but for a criminal offense, there needs to be certain things happening.”
In guidelines provided to her, she said, they do not engage people; park at least 25 feet from drop boxes; do not videotape voters, and if they log the number of vehicles, they document it below the dashboard, document any aggressive behavior and notify law enforcement.
Hill said they have not had reports of people taking video of a ballot box, but he said that isn’t illegal since it’s a public area.
“You can take pictures of mostly anything you want,” he said. “It isn’t harassment and it’s protected.”
Lynn said the observers only take photos of suspicious activity.
From his truck between the former JCPenney and Brian’s Sporting Goods buildings, Brian Truby of Sequim was a ballot box observer last Friday afternoon.
He’s part of what he said is a nonpartisan citizen group watching ballot boxes, looking for “anything suspicious.”
Truby said he learned of the group through his neighbors for the general election to make sure there were no issues at the ballot boxes. He recorded license plates on a notepad to see if there were repeated numbers for drop-offs.
“Everything looks normal,” he said. “Doesn’t seem like anything suspicious.”
Truby said he and other observers have been spoken to and asked questions by passers-by, and one woman took his photo.
“Every year, there’s always people questioning the sanctity and validity of elections,” he said.
“There are always impartial observers looking for illegal activities. It’s supposed to be a transparent process.”
When asked how he felt about the local election process’ security, Truby said, “my feeling is that it is (secure).”
“I haven’t seen anything suspicious at this point,” he said.
Lynn said ballot box “stuffing” is not illegal in Washington state, as election officials have safeguards against fraudulent ballots.
“As far as I’m aware, no one is really concerned about repeat drop-offs,” he said.
Clallam County Democrats election observer coordinator Sandy Ulf said local Democrats don’t monitor ballot boxes “because of safeguards in place.”
However, she said some party members have shared concerns about ballot box observers’ presence.
Riggs said if people are concerned about possible illegal activity at or around ballot boxes, they should call law enforcement with Clallam County’s non-emergency dispatch at 360-417-2459.