The intense interest in next month’s election has also sparked added security around ballot drop boxes
CLARK COUNTY — Following the primary election last August, Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey boldly predicted the November general election turnout could reach 80 percent.
“That’s old news,” Kimsey said on Monday. “We think 90 percent.”
More than 309,000 ballots started landing in the mailboxes of Clark County residents over the weekend, and should have arrived by Wednesday, said Kimsey.
“If a voter hasn’t received their ballot by the 21st they should call us as soon as possible.”
The number to do so is 564-397-2345.
As of Wednesday at noon, 53,198 ballots had already been returned, or 16.68 percent of the county’s 318,966 eligible voters.
Those early returns also reveal another trend: people are generally avoiding putting their ballots in the mailbox, opting to drive to a ballot drop box location.
“We’re at 63 percent of the ballots delivered through ballot drop boxes,” Kimsey said on Monday night. “In 2016, at this point, we had about 25 percent of the ballots being delivered through the drop boxes.”
Some of that may be due to the addition of more drop boxes. In 2016, there were just six locations, in addition to the elections office in downtown Vancouver. Today, there are a total of 22 drop boxes spread throughout the county.
However, it could also be an indication that fewer people are putting their trust in the US Postal Service, which became highly politicized over the summer amid rumors the administration of President Donald Trump was trying to hamstring the agency ahead of the election, an allegation the White House and USPS have repeatedly denied.
There have also been rumors of ballots being dumped or stolen.
In Camas, six ballots were found by police investigating mail theft and returned to their rightful owners. The ballots had been dumped nearby, so police don’t believe that’s what the thieves were after.
Still, the fact that a story about mail theft — which happens all the time — made news headlines due to ballots being included illustrates how much focus is on this election, and making sure that every vote is counted.
On Monday, Vancouver Police Department sent out a news release announcing that officers would be increasing patrols around drop box locations “to ensure community members have free access to and from ballot drop locations, to deter potential voter intimidation and/or tampering with the ballot boxes, and to provide safety for the election officials collecting the ballots.”
Kimsey says his office made that request of both Vancouver Police and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in response to news that spread through social media of the Proud Boys alt-right group requesting its members “guard ballot drop boxes.”
The agency also experienced the first-ever vandalism of a drop box within the last week, which Kimsey said included a message scrawled on the box in permanent marker, but no attempt to open it.
“It wasn’t very serious, active vandalism,” says Kimsey, “but it was the first time we’ve ever had a ballot drop box vandalized.”
The elections office has also seen an increase in voters expressing concerns over the security of ballots contained in drop boxes, which also prompted the request for greater law enforcement scrutiny.
Elections Department employees will be checking boxes regularly, sometimes twice a day depending on how busy they are, said Kimsey.
No fewer than two employees are present when ballots are collected, and a security seal is used to ensure no one else has accessed the contents of the box. Another is affixed to a ballot bag, which can only be opened once it is securely back inside the main office.
Ballots are then run through a high-speed sorting machine that tabulates the vote, as well as performing an initial check of the signature to see if it matches what is on the voter’s registration.
“I can’t imagine going back to a point in time where we received 30,000 ballots tomorrow morning, and we are all getting together and sorting them by hand in the different precincts,” says Kimsey, “and then verifying signatures, pulling out these paper copies of registration forms and … saying ‘Hey, is that bad or not?’ It’s come a long ways in these 25 plus years.”
Tabulated votes are maintained in a computer, which is kept inside a locked cabinet in a locked room, with no access to the Internet.
On election night, at 8 p.m., an encrypted USB key is used to retrieve the election results, which are then posted online shortly after the polls have closed.
The launch of the VoteWA.gov website helped the state to maintain a record of voter registrations, and enable near real-time tracking of ballots.
“They can confirm the status of the ballot, they can confirm whether it was received or not,” Kimsey says. “They can confirm whether it was accepted for processing or if it was challenged due to a signature issue.”
The system also allowed the state to become one of the first to allow voters to register to vote and vote on the same day, up until the deadline on election night.
“Same day registration would not be practical if you can’t confirm that someone who’s walked into your office at 7:55 p.m. on election night (has not) previously registered somewhere else in the state,” says Kimsey, “that they haven’t already voted a ballot somewhere else in the state.”
Despite increased focus on this election, Kimsey says he remains convinced that they’re prepared to make sure every vote gets counted.
“We’ve had almost 30 years to work to develop this environment for vote by mail,” says Kimsey, before adding that more than 150 people working to ensure the Nov. 3 general election goes off without a hitch will be very happy when they can announce the results and watch 2020 fade into history.