State laws and local procedures secure elections

Layers of security protect local elections

Ahead of the midterm elections Tuesday, North Olympic Peninsula election officials are assuring voters local elections are safe and secure, saying that instances of election fraud are rare.

Concerns about election security rose dramatically following the 2020 presidential election, according to the Associated Press, elevated by former President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the election. Trump’s claims about election fraud have been rejected in more than 60 court cases in multiple states and federal jurisdictions, and by his own Attorney General William Barr, according to AP.

Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias said elections staff have received unusual and vague threats and varying levels of intimidation.

Clallam County Administrator Rich Sill authorized a contract with Norpoint Protective Security of Port Angeles last week to have one security guard in the Elections Center during office hours through December. The contract is $55 per hour.

Security is always present at the Jefferson County Courthouse where ballot processing is taking place, Grewell said.

“Those are challenging circumstances and we’re doing everything we can to maintain morale while providing a high level of customer service,” Ozias said.

Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs has said that hearing complaints and concerns from voters is not unusual.

“Every election we receive upset voters on the phone even before 2020,” she said. “We work with whatever their concern. It’s a matter of educating them in the process.”

Riggs previously told Peninsula Daily News there’s been an increase in the number of people wanting to be election observers, particularly from members of the Republican Party.

That’s not been the case in Jefferson County, according to Election Coordinator Quinn Grewell, who’s told PDN there hasn’t been an increase in people wanting to be election observers or expressing concern about election security.

Leading up to elections, logic and accuracy tests are performed on the ballot system and a representative from the Washington State Secretary of State’s office comes in and observes to ensure correct tabulation.

“When we do an official logic and accuracy test, we should be at 100 percent accuracy … and once we conclude the test is accurate, we upload it to the Secretary of State’s website to make sure what we have on our machines matches up with their website,” Riggs said.

In that test, they check for over-votes (voting for more than one candidate in a race), under-votes (voting for no candidates), write-ins, blank ballots and any other variables.

“We test for all of it,” she said.

The tests are the same in Jefferson County. The state requires them of all counties.

State law

Counties run their own elections but much of what they do is dictated by Washington state laws and regulations. Since 2011, Washington state law is that ballots are mailed to every registered voter in the state, to be returned by mail or to designated ballot drop boxes placed throughout each county.

State law requires dropboxes to be emptied at least once a day by at least two background-checked county employees who must keep a written log of the collection.

According to Susan Johnson, Clallam County elections manager, at least two people pick up each box, with a third person participating for training or heightened security.

Employees ensure each box is sealed and they log in a book the date and time of pick up. Then ballots are then placed in bags with their own seals and logs and then locked up, Johnson said. Once at the courthouse, logs are given to elections staff and checked in.

“If there are five bags, the five logs are verified to be accurate and locked into the central election center,” Johnson said.

Once ballots are received, state regulations require they be kept in secure storage until final processing.

“Secure storage must employ the use of numbered seals and logs, or other security measures which will detect any inappropriate or unauthorized access to the secured ballot materials when they are not being prepared or processed by authorized personnel,” the Washington Administrative Code says.

“The county auditor must ensure that all security envelopes and return envelopes are empty, either by a visual inspection of the punched hole to confirm that no ballots or other materials are still in the envelopes, or by storing the envelopes with a tie, string, or other object through the holes.”

In Clallam County, access badges are used to enter the Election Center; no keys are used. All entries and denied access events are recorded. The door reader system is synced to security cameras at door exteriors.

Starting in 2021, Clallam County has offered 24/7 live streaming of the Election Center on the auditor’s YouTube page.

In Jefferson County, live streaming is available only while ballots are being processed.

Election observers in Clallam County had previously expressed concern to county commissioners regarding certain election protocols, including the signature verification process and the selection of ballots for random audits, issues Riggs has said are governed by state regulations.

On Friday, Riggs announced Clallam County would conduct a ballot audit at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse in the presence of election observers.

The test demonstrates the accuracy of the tabulation equipment, Riggs said in a press release. The purpose of the audit is to compare a manual count of ballots to the machine count for randomly selected batches.

The audit is open to the public, with limited in-person observation space available. The testing will also be live-streamed at ClallamCountyWA.gov/elections.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynew.com.

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