By Brenda Cunningham and Tim Manns
For the last several years the news and social media have been full of stories about faulty election integrity despite an almost complete lack of well-founded reason for concern. Have you worried about our elections department in Skagit County? Are you concerned about whether your ballot was counted or not? Rest assured, the system for tabulating our ballots is well-run and transparent. Skagit Scoop often focuses on problems with our county government and looks for ways it could be improved. However, it is clear to us that the Skagit County Elections Department is in good hands.
Recent Accusations by Skagit County Republican Party
Skagit Republicans recently claimed that there are more than 3,000 anomalies in the voter register for Skagit County. This led King5 News to investigate. Please watch this interesting coverage of what they found.
King 5 looked into many of the people listed in the report as being ineligible to vote and interviewed a number of them. The reporters were unable to find a single example of a fraudulent voter.
Observing the Elections
During every election cycle interested community members may sit in attendance at the Elections Office while ballot envelopes and the ballots themselves are processed. Because of space limitations and COVID concerns this is often just one or two representatives from the two major parties. More people can watch on closed-circuit television just outside the Elections Office. For several election cycles we served as election observers for Skagit County Democrats.
The steps for processing mail-in ballots and those deposited in the designated ballot boxes are clearly secure and transparent. Gabrielle Clay, the Elections Supervisor, readily and patiently shows observers all the steps involved. At every step in the painstaking process, from collecting ballots to verifying signatures, to opening the ballots and unfolding them in preparation for machine tabulation, there is always more than one staff person involved.
Two Things Stand Out
Two things have especially stood out to those of us volunteering as observers:
1) The task of processing thousands of ballots is labor intensive and requires constant and careful attention to detail. The staff doing this work struck us as professional, efficient, and very focused on doing the work carefully and accurately. They go to great lengths to ensure that every vote is counted and recorded as intended by each voter. They take their jobs seriously and work steadily for long hours. Their diligence, which is clearly visible to elections observers, is so important for the integrity of our system.
2) The staff of the Elections Department works hard at preparing for elections year-round, but the weeks just before an election are unavoidably hectic. Throughout the day, staff are helping people who come to the office to register to vote, to update their signature or address, or to ask general questions about their ballot. While we were observing we often heard staff answering complicated questions on the phone and helping people learn the voting process.
Check Your Ballot Status
After you submit your ballot, either by mail or in a ballot box, be sure to wait a few days and then check your ballot status. Visit VoteWA.gov to do this. You will see that your ballot has either been “Accepted” or “Rejected”. Very often rejection is due to your signature not matching the one on file at the Elections Office (usually from your driver’s license) or due to failure to sign your ballot envelope. Both issues can be resolved with a visit to the Elections Office.
Our signatures change over time. Brenda’s changed enough over 25 years that she had to go in to update the signature on file. This is a common occurrence. It also happens to young voters, who may not have settled into a regular signature pattern yet. It is easy to update your signature on file. And don’t worry about remembering whether you put your middle initial in there or not. They can verify your signature based on the rest of your name. The process for resolving a rejected ballot is called Vote Curing.
Certification Takes a Long Time
Because we have the option of mailing our ballots up to and including election day, it can take a long time for every ballot to be received and counted. Ballots mailed on election day may not reach the office until a week later. If you choose to mail your ballot, do so as early as you can. If possible, do not wait until election day. Elections are certified by the County 21 days after a general election. This year that will be November 29.
Skagit County Elections FAQs: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/AuditorElections/ElectionsFAQ.htm
Brenda Cunningham, a Mount Vernon resident for the past 30 years, is a retired biologist, and manages a native plant display garden in Skagit for the Washington Native Plant Society.
Tim Manns moved to Skagit County in 1992 to work on the staff of North Cascades National Park. In retirement, he volunteers for conservation organizations dedicated to keeping the Skagit a special place.