PORT ANGELES — Washington’s ballot-counting process is thoroughly vetted and secure and the amount of voter fraud in the state is very low, according to a North Olympic Peninsula auditor.
Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs told a meeting of the Port Angeles Noon Rotary Club on Wednesday that counties work with state and federal authorities to ensure the security of elections.
Riggs said later that the number of people interested in becoming election observers has increased over the past few years, particularly following the 2020 presidential election.
Riggs said the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees elections in the state, works with the Washington Air National Guard to monitor the state’s election infrastructure against potential cyberattacks.
All 39 counties are members of the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center, a private cybersecurity monitor, she added.
Washington state has been primarily vote-by-mail since 2011, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, and Riggs said Clallam County’s use of the system goes back even further.
Riggs said in response to a 1996 poll, 70 percent of Clallam County voters said they preferred the vote-by-mail system, and the county switched to vote-by-mail in 2002.
A call to the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office was unsuccessful in acquiring comment on Wednesday.
Riggs was questioned about voter fraud in the vote-by-mail system and said she had heard that concern from residents.
However, the number of voter fraud cases is very low in the state, Riggs said. Election staff at all counties are trained in signature verification, and staff can and do challenge ballots when they perceive there to be an issue.
The county received 29,401 ballots in the recent primary election, and Riggs estimated there were only about 200 challenged ballots.
When a ballot is challenged, election staff try to contact the voter to rectify whatever issue there may be with a ballot.
Election staff check ballot signatures against the voter registration signatures the county has on file. If needed, Riggs said staff can access other signatures on file with the county or the state, such as a driver’s license.
In the case of someone sending in a fraudulent ballot, “unless that person knows your signature, they’re going to have a hard time getting that ballot accepted,” Riggs said.
Bonnie Bless-Boenish, a member of the Clallam County League of Women Voters who has served as an election observer, said later that following the 2020 election, the Washington state branch of LWV started an initiative to increase the public’s understanding and confidence in the state’s elections.
National allegations of voter fraud in 2020 culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol that sought to disrupt certification of the presidential election. The suspicion of election fraud has been raised in Washington state.
The purpose of the initiative, Bless-Boenish said, was “that we do all we can to combat mis- and dis-information.”
Bless-Boenish said she and other volunteers attended a two-hour training session where they were instructed in the election process.
During the ballot-counting process, observers are allowed into the offices where work is taking place but must follow certain procedures. Members of the public also are allowed in areas where ballot processing is taking place, but space is limited and reserved for trained observers.
“Basically (an observer) is to observe the process but not to be involved in the process in any way,” Bless-Boenish said.
In the past, Riggs said, observers were mostly from the Republican or Democrat parties, but there’s been an increase in interest from the general public. Political parties, too, have shown more interest in the observation process, Riggs said.
In early August, Riggs responded to the concerns of two people — including the Republican Legislative District 24, Position 1 candidate Sue Forde — who had voiced concerns about the high number of new observer volunteers, PDN previously reported.
Washington’s 2022 mid-term election is Nov. 8, and the deadline to register for vote-by-mail is Oct. 31. Beginning in 2018, Washington state allows same-day voter registration, which must be completed before 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]