2008 A Wonkacious View of Your Vote-Processing Factory
posted by November 4 at 13:05 PMon
We’re down at King County Election Headquarters in Renton, where about 500 people are working feverishly to count your absentee votes. According to Bobbie Egan, the spokeswoman giving us a tour, King County receives the second most absentee ballots of any county in the nation (beat only by L.A. County).
This is your vote-processing factory. It’s a new building (opened Dec. 1, 2007) tricked out with 59 security cameras, a high-security inner area, and an outer perimeter loop where anyone can come and watch.
According to Egan, voter turnout is expected to be 85 percent today, up from 83 percent in 2004. In this building today, about 80,000 to 100,000 absentee ballots will be counted to be reported at 8:15 pm. That should count for about 39 percent of the total. The count is not expected to be 97 percent complete until next Tuesday.
Here’s how it works. The ballots come up from a big mailroom warehouse to be sliced (in the top machine) and sorted by Pitney Bowes postal machines (seen behind the crate).
The Pitney Bowes machine sorts the ballots by legislative district into batches of about 200. Each ballot stays with its batch its entire counting cycle. A cheerful man named Muhammadu Kora is one of the people who carries your ballot onward.
The Pitney Bowes machine also takes a digital picture of the signature on the outside of the ballot. Those pictures are sent to another team out in the main room, where workers trained in signature verification vet them against your voting record.
If there is a signature “miscompare,” you get one of these yellow letters in the mail.
If not, your ballot goes to the openers. They take the security envelope out, remove the ballot, and stack the security envelopes on a giant twist tie that goes through the center hole in each security envelope. This hole-in-the-middle design was created after the 2004 election, when in the recount workers discovered security envelopes that still had ballots in them, unremoved and uncounted. Here’s Mary Isabell doing her twist-tie thing.
The openers determine whether there’s been undervoting or overvoting. If there’s overvoting, the ballots have to be duplicated by hand by election workers (both the original and the copy are coded and saved for reference). Finally the ballots go to the tabulation room, where they’re fed into a little tabletop reading machine one batch at a time. Kathstacie Green is running a machine. If the machine detects trouble, it stops and Green checks the marks herself.
“The Cage,” where the ballots are stored, was designed in consultation with high-security casino experts. To get in you have to be on a list, swipe your card, and have your fingerprint tested. (You can use either pointer finger; both are on record in case one is burned off or cut off.)
1. The Whites. When we were there, one lonely family was walking the loop. Homeschoolers Joelle White of Des Moines and her husband brought their daughters, 11 and 8, to check it out. The older daughter said the loop is inconveniently shaped. The younger daughter wishes she could touch things, because, as her mother added, she is a kinesthetic learner.
2. The blacks. We realize we ended up with more pictures of black election workers than whites. This is not by accident. It seemed like were lots of black election workers.
3. Christmas music. The Renton Tully’s where we are filing this report is playing it.