County hopes for bug-free first run of new statewide voter registration system

The new VoteWA system makes same-day registration possible and helps voters keep track of their ballots

CLARK COUNTY — An August primary in an odd-numbered year usually means fewer high-profile races and lower voter turnout. As of Monday morning, returns stood at 18.15 percent.

Those factors are part of the reason counties across the state are moving ahead with the implementation of a new $9.5 million voter registration system, despite a litany of bugs and delays.

County hopes for bug-free first run of new statewide voter registration system
This drive-up ballot drop box is one of nine locations around the county where you can drop off your ballot before 8 p.m. on election night. Photo by Chris Brown

The transition to the new VoteWA system shuttered online voter registrations for about a month earlier this year, leading to delays in getting ballots in the mail as elections officials scrambled to manually transfer voter information into the new system. 

Implementation of the new system is needed to comply with same-day voter registration laws passed by the state legislature. It is also intended to provide a statewide voter registration database, says Cathie Garber, elections supervisor with the Clark County Auditor’s office.

“With same day registration, we are able to take the voter who has moved to our county from another county, we can check to see if they’ve returned a ballot, and if it was accepted,” says Garber. “If it has not been accepted, we can pull them out of that county and bring them right into ours and issue them a ballot for the jurisdiction that they really live in.”

Garber says the new system will allow people who find out last-minute that they’re not correctly registered to vote in their county of residence to come to the elections office, get a new ballot, and vote, even on election day. Previously there was an eight-day cutoff before an election to fix any registration issues.

“A lot of times on big elections people wait till the very last minute and they come to find out that they were canceled years ago, or they moved out and came back and they thought they were registered,” said Garber. “And we weren’t able to give them anything but a provisional ballot. Now, they will get a ballot and get to vote, and that ballot will be counted.”

The system also allows voters to see, in real-time, when their ballot has been received, and whether it was accepted or rejected, and even get a document to update their signature if it was challenged.

“So they really can watch the entire process of where the ballot is in the process,” says Garber, adding that the previous system could be slow to update and confusing to voters about what the actual status of their ballot was.

Of course any major new system isn’t going to be without some issues. Aside from the delays, there have been a number of days where the VoteWA system has gone down, leaving volunteers twiddling their thumbs waiting to input voter’s information. And even when the system was working, it was often much slower than before.

County hopes for bug-free first run of new statewide voter registration system
The Clark County Elections building in downtown Vancouver will be buzzing on Tuesday night. Photo by Chris Brown

Garber says the system was tested end-to-end, but “until you’re in an election, you don’t really realize subtle nuances.”

There have been issues with the signature verification system going slowly. Garber says the system also was attempting to send a replacement ballot to voters who had been tagged for a signature issue but cleared by a human checking the signatures.

“But we discovered that with the very first person that we did,” said Garber. “As soon as we reported it, by the next day that was fixed. So our developers are very responsive.”

That developer, BPro of South Dakota, features this motto on their website: “We’re not here to implement a software product, we’re here to solve your problems and make your elections a showcase of voter service and efficiency.”

“They listened to everybody in the elections community, and they’re just waiting to see, you know, what can we do to make it better?” says Garber. “And I’m really proud of the work they’ve done. I think this is going to be an impressive system that other states are gonna just really want.”

Garber says the steering committee that led the proposal for the new VoteWA system had 452 requirements. It’s the first system of its kind in the country, and will allow someone to get a driver’s license, register to vote, and then vote on the same day.

“So we’re really excited about being able to make sure that everyone who is eligible and wants to vote gets to vote, and their ballot gets counted.”

While the VoteWA system is not connected to the county’s voter tabulation equipment, Garber said they have been running some additional tests to fix a problem that popped up during the April election. The results reporting module, she says, was slow and delayed the release of results until 45 minutes after 8 p.m., much later than they usually are posted.

Garber says the process is somewhat unusual because, usually, after tests are done the counting room is locked up until election night. But updating the module required unlocking the room where the tabulation computer is kept, disconnected from any external networks.

“So to follow the spirit of the law … after we make this update, we will then lock the room back up until Election Night,” she said. “But witnesses will be here and they can see the entire process.”

To make sure your ballot is counted on election night, you may want to drop it off in one of the nine locations around Clark County with a 24-hour ballot drop box. You can find a list of locations by clicking here.

The county will also do a hand count of a limited number of ballots on the day after the election to verify that the electronic tabulation was accurate.

The selected ballots will be counted in the total returns on Election Day. But for this comparison, ballots with the city of Vancouver, Council Position 2 race also will be counted by hand, to check the accuracy of the ballot tabulation equipment.

Election coverage

ClarkCountyToday.com will, of course, be providing updates on election night and throughout the day on Wednesday. You can also catch live television coverage of the primary election results starting at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday provided by Clark/Vancouver Television (CVTV). 

Comcast customers can tune to channel 23 for up-to-the-minute Clark County election results and analysis, or online at cvtv.org

CVTV’s primary election coverage will be hosted by Michael Wilson, senior associate for Westby Associates and former Vancouver City Council member, and Kelly Love, chief communications officer for Clark College. They will also conduct candidate interviews from the 6th floor Hearings Room at the Clark County Public Service Center (1300 Franklin St.).   

CVTV is the local government, non-commercial cable access channel operated and funded by the City of Vancouver and Clark County, Washington.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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