It’s legal in Washington to be a third-party ballot collector, but election officials strongly suggest using official drop boxes instead. Photo by Ray Miller-Still, Sound Publishing

It’s legal in Washington to be a third-party ballot collector, but election officials strongly suggest using official drop boxes instead. Photo by Ray Miller-Still, Sound Publishing

Unofficial ballot drop boxes open in Enumclaw

It’s unclear what will happen to the ballots if they are dropped off at two private businesses

Two Enumclaw businesses are hosting unofficial ballot drop boxes for the upcoming election.

Currently at Headworks Brewery and Mail Express are skinny, black lock boxes that local voters can drop their ballots off at, if they so chose.

“I believe the only safe and secure election is one done in person and on the day of the election,” said local Kevin McCoy in a brief statement, after announcing the existence of the drop boxes in the ESD Candidates for Change Facebook group. “This gives people another choice to cast their ballot.”

Grassroots ballot collection — also known as ballot harvesting — is legal in Washington state, though these drop boxes are not officially approved by King County Elections.

It should be noted that it is a gross misdemeanor to represent non-official ballot drop-offs as an official site, though these locations do not do so.

But although ballot collecting in this manner is clearly within legal bounds, what’s unclear at this time is what sort of security measures are in place to make sure ballots dropped off at these locations will ultimately make it to the county to be counted.

The Enumclaw Courier-Herald newspaper has messaged McCoy over Facebook, and sent emails to Headworks and Mail Express with questions about security measures and what processes are in place to make sure the ballots will be properly given to the county, but did not receive answers before print deadline.

Additionally, it’s unclear who is organizing this effort; in a short statement, Headworks’ Gino Santamaria said the drop boxes were provided by the King County/Washington state GOP, and that Headworks’ employees will not be interacting with the drop box.

State GOP Chairperson Jim Walsh confirmed that while they encourage “get out the vote” measures, they are not specifically involved in organizing this particular effort.

The Courier-Herald has attempted to reach the county GOP via email and phone calls, but could not confirm their possible involvement by print deadline.

King County does not recommend utilizing third-parties when it comes to ballots and elections.

“Given the risks, including ballots being damaged, lost, or returned too late, we strongly encourage voters to return their ballots by U.S. mail or using an official ballot drop box,” said King County Elections Communications Specialist Courtney Hudak.

Secretary of State Deputy Director of External Affairs Derrick Nunnally echoed this advice.

“A voter has no recourse in state law to have their ballot counted if anyone delivers the ballot late,” he said.

COUNTY SECURITY

Ballot security has come under scrutiny in recent years, with many people expressing distrust of elections and the governments that oversee them.

According to the 2022 Cost of Voting Index, a study by Scot Schraufnagel and published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Washington state is ranked No. 2 in voter accessibility (only behind Oregon) thanks to automatic registration, same-day registration, early voting, mail-in voting, and the fact that voting rights for felons are restored automatically after a sentenced is completed and fines are paid.

The state only falls behind Oregon because Washington still requires citizens to have a photo I.D. in order to register as a voter.

On the flip side, it’s for those exact reasons that The Heritage Foundation, which tracks election fraud, ranks Washington 45th in election security. However, the conservative think-tank has only recorded 12 proven cases of voter or election between 2004 and 2010; in comparison, Tennessee, ranked 1st in election security, also only has a dozen proven cases of voter or election fraud between 2005 and 2022.

Voting in this state might be accessible, but that doesn’t mean ballot security isn’t robust in King County.

According to Hudak, there are election security measures for every step of the way, from the drop boxes themselves to when your ballot is officially counted.

For example, all registered voters in the county have their own unique identifier, which is associated with their ballot envelope, to prevent voters from submitting multiple ballots under their name or using fraudulent names.

Then there are the drop boxes, which weigh more than a thousand pounds and are bolted down into the ground with foot-long bolts. They’re so study that in 2019, an SUV crashed into a Thurston County drop box, Crosscut reported. The drop box was knocked over, but the county auditor said “there was not a dent” and all ballots were recovered.

If you’re still not convinced, a school bus crashed into a King County drop box “a few years ago”, Route Fifty reported in 2020, and the drop box “came away without a scratch”, a county elections official said.

“Each is also served by a variety of additional safety measures, including things like fire stops and a ballot slot that is appropriately sized for a ballot (and not much else),” Hudak continued.

All King County ballot drop boxes are emptied at least at the end of every weeknight in teams of two (so there is always a witness), and these trained county employees, who sign a legal oath to uphold election integrity, are required to log the date and time the ballots are collected, along with their names.

When drop boxes are emptied, a tamper-evident seal is placed on the access door so any attempt to access ballots outside an official capacity will be noticed; the seals themselves are numbered and logged by election workers.

Ballots are collected and stored in secure containers, and while en-route to election headquarters, a tracking app is used to keep tabs on where those ballots are and when they’re expected to arrive.

You can even watch ballots arrive at headquarters, in the warehouse, or get sorted, reviewed, opened, reviewed again, and counted via live webstreams at kingcounty.gov/en/legacy/depts/elections/about-us/security-and-accountability/watch-us-in-action.aspx.

Additionally, voters can sign up to receive text or email alerts to track their ballots through every part of their process at kce.wiki/BallotAlert.

“No matter how a voter returns their ballot, alerts can reassure them of where their ballot is,” Hudak said.

King County elections came under fire from Republicans last August, however, for failing to alert the King County GOP that a primary tabulation server, a “central component of the election process”, according to a news release, was replaced, and was also failed to be invited to the subsequent Logic and Accuracy test after the replacement.

Additionally, the security camera meant to capture the L&A test was not operational that day, KCGOP said.

“This isn’t merely a procedural lapse; it represents a breach of public trust,” KCGOP Chairman Mathew Patrick said in a press release. “Our electoral process is the bedrock of our democracy, and any actions undermining its transparency and integrity must be swiftly and decisively rectified.”

The KCGOP added that there should be a “rigorous examination” of the election department to determine if there are any violations of state laws and regulations.

Elections Director Julie Wise responded via letter that several changes would be made to how the county conducts L&A tests, and that the KCGOP was invited to all future L&A tests, including the one performed on Oct. 12 for the general election next week.

“Over the last several years, we have treasured your partnership as we have expanded our observer program significantly,” she wrote. “From doubling the number of observers allowed on the ballot processing floor to increasing training opportunities for those wanting to observe at drop boxes, the energy, enthusiasm, and interest from you has only inspired us to push the envelope on what open and transparent elections can look like.”

CALIFORNIA PLATES?

One of McCoy’s recent concerns with King County’s elections was that a van with a California license plate was seen being used to collect ballots during a previous election.

“We do rent vans every election season and sometimes those vans have out-of-state license plates. Official drop box teams will be wearing uniforms that will make clear that they work for King County Elections, and they’re happy to answer questions,” Hudak said. “If folks in the community are ever concerned about someone near a drop box, we also encourage them to let us know directly by calling 206-296-VOTE (8683).”


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