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Monday, November 5, 2012

Ohmigod, What the Fuck Has Happened to My Ballot?

Posted by on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 5:58 PM

Okay, before you read any further, just chill. If you haven't yet mailed in your ballot, do so now, or deposit it in one of the 15 drop boxes located throughout King County, by 8 p.m. tomorrow. You have until tomorrow to mail your ballot, but remember, it must be postmarked by election day, so you are best off taking it to a post office.

And if you've lost your ballot or never received it, that's okay too. You can actually print a new ballot online, or if that seems weird, you can vote in person today or tomorrow at one of the county's 5 accessible voting centers. And if they give you any guff, just ask for a provisional ballot—that's your right.

This isn't Florida. Our election officials actually want you to vote.

But how do you know if your ballot has been counted? That's easy too. Just click through to the King County Ballot Tracker and type in your name and birth date. What... your ballot's not been received? When did you mail it? If it's been more than 4 days, you might want to give KC Elections a call (206-296-VOTE ) or try one of the options listed above. If it's still awaiting signature verification, don't worry. I'm going to explain the entire process below.

  • The first stop for your ballot is one of two high-speed sorters that sort the unopened envelopes by precinct.

The first stop on your ballot's journey from the drop box or the USPS truck to reelecting our nation's first half-white president is KC Elections' two Pitney-Bowes high-speed sorting machines. Batches of 200 to 400 envelopes are scanned for voter data and signatures, and sorted by precinct. When the Ballot Tracker reports that your ballot has been "received," it means it's been scanned by one of these two sorting machines. Next step: Signature verification.

About a quarter the King County Elections center 2nd floor processing center is devoted to signature verification.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • About a quarter the King County Elections center 2nd floor processing center is devoted to signature verification.

Once sorted, your ballot is brought to Signature Verification. Trained specialists sit at banks of computer monitors, where they compare the signature on your outer envelope to your signature on file, looking for similarities in height and spacing and slant. If the signature matches, your ballot envelope moves on to Opening—if your signature does not match or is missing, your ballot is flagged for further review. In the photo above, work stations in the back and along the window are those of the first-pass signature verifiers; the workstations in the front are those of more highly trained staff who review flagged envelopes. Some are verified upon further review, the rest are flagged as "challenged."

About 2 percent of received envelopes end up being flagged as challenged, the majority due to missing signatures. If your ballot is challenged you should be notified both by mail and phone; call them back! You have until November 26, the day before certification, to "cure" your ballot. About half of challenged ballots are eventually cured, but that still leaves thousands of ballots uncounted, more than enough to sway the outcome of a very close race.

After your signature is verified, your ballot heads to Opening, where it is separated from its envelope and reviewed for obvious problems.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • After your signature is verified, your ballot heads to Opening, where it is separated from its envelope and reviewed for obvious problems.

Opening your ballot envelope is actually a three-step process. 1) Your security envelope is separated from its outer mailing envelope. Once all the envelopes have been emptied and set aside, 2) your ballot is removed from its security envelope. Then 3) workers inspect the ballot for stray marks, the wrong color pen, or physical damage that may prevent it from being read by the optical scanners.

Ballot reviewers work in teams of two to determine voter intent of damaged ballots.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Ballot reviewers work in teams of two to determine voter intent of damaged ballots.

Most ballots move immediately on to scanning, but those that are deemed damaged move on to Ballot Review, where teams of two attempt to determine the voter's intent (according to strict guidelines) and then electronically or physically duplicate the ballot if necessary. If voter intent cannot be determined, or the adjudicators disagree on intent, your ballot will be forwarded to the Canvassing Board for final determination. (The canvassing board is a three-person panel composed of representatives from the county council, the county prosecutor's office, and the elections office. All their proceedings and deliberations are open to the public.)

If the Ballot Tracker reports that your ballot has been counted, that means its been scanned on one of these machines.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • If the Ballot Tracker reports that your ballot has been "counted," that means it's been scanned on one of these machines.

Once your ballot makes it through Opening (or Ballot Review) it is sent on to Scanning, where batches of ballots are processed on one of several high speed scanners. Ballots that fail to scan are kicked out and sent back to Ballot Review. If the Ballot Tracker reports that your ballot has been "counted," it means it has been successfully scanned.

Only a handful of KC Elections employees have access to the server room where the data is stored and tabulated.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Only a handful of KC Elections employees have access to the server room where the data is stored and tabulated.

Scanning occurs throughout the election processing period, with data stored on a server in a secure room next door. But it is not until 8 p.m. on election night that this data is tabulated and the results reported.

So, how can I be certain that this process is legit and that my ballot is secure? Again, this is not Florida. Or Ohio. But in addition to the general lack of political corruption in Washington State, there are also a ton of safeguards in place. Access to the ballot processing center is restricted (I was escorted by communications specialist Barbara Ramey, who took away my black pen and made me take notes with a non-scannable red one), authorized observers are roaming the floor at all times, and when not being processed, all ballots are stored in a floor to ceiling cage.

Ballots are stored in a floor-to-ceiling cage.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Ballots are stored in a floor-to-ceiling cage.

Yeah sure, we rely on ballot scanning and tabulation equipment made by evil corporations. But any attempt to tamper with the results would be revealed by the routine audits conducted after the election, in which a random sample of precincts are counted by hand, and compared to the official machine results. Indeed, a statewide hand recount of over 3 million ballots in the 2004 gubernatorial election found a statistically insignificant variance between the hand and machine recounts.

Also, there's always the possibility of a recount, which would surely reveal any tabulation fraud. It just couldn't happen without a broad bipartisan conspiracy, and even then it would be awfully difficult to execute.

Finally, all ballots are stored for a number of years, offering a reviewable paper trail. One of the many advantages of our vote-by-mail system. Even the electronic accessible voting machines produce voter-reviewable paper receipt.

So there you have it: The life of your ballot from dropbox to tabulation. If you've got any questions, please ask them in the comment thread.

 

Comments (21) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
leek 1
TMY;DR.

(Too much "you're": didn't read.)
Posted by leek on November 5, 2012 at 6:08 PM · Report this
Keister Button 2
Heh, when one race was not yet decided last year, I was bidden by a campaign manager to check out KC Elections HQ in Renton. I did not bring any pens with me but rather recorded daily numbers of ballots counted, tallied and yet to be counted, and looked for signs of opponent's scrutineers. All I saw for scrutineers was one guy from Bothell, who had nothing to do with the race I was checking. Elex HQ is set up so there are tiers of visitors: most people look on beyond a glass wall. I was granted special permission to be on the floor, but I had to keep a set distance away from the workers and remain at a table close to the supervisory offices. Maybe nine remaining temporary staff were working. I was not to talk to anyone other than the communications person plus maybe her supervisor, and was given the same tour.
Posted by Keister Button on November 5, 2012 at 6:26 PM · Report this
Goldy 3
@1 The word "your" appears in the post 28 times, and I got it right 26 times. That's a 93 percent success rate! Good enough to earn me an A!
Posted by Goldy on November 5, 2012 at 6:28 PM · Report this
leek 4
Damn you're fuzzy math!!
Posted by leek on November 5, 2012 at 6:31 PM · Report this
chaseacross 5
I can't help but get a warm feeling at how civilized voting is here. No long lines, no partisan wrestling over which precincts get the working voting machines, no mouth-breathing paranoiacs yelling at people of color who forgot their drivers' licenses. It's not a perfect system, but would anyone, Republican or Democrat, want to go back? Especially after seeing the debacle in Florida?
Posted by chaseacross on November 5, 2012 at 7:20 PM · Report this
6
When/how often are the ballots deposited in ballot drop boxes collected? Once I waited until election day to vote and the Ballard drop box was overflowing.
Posted by Superflap on November 5, 2012 at 7:34 PM · Report this
7
One question: if you're an overseas voter, or if you lose your ballot and do the on-line option, you can e-mail or fax your ballot in. Any clue how that shows up on the ballot tracker? In previous years I swear it's showed it as fully processed (same as a mailed ballot), but mine is still showing as unreceived a week later.

(I'm going to call KC Elections tomorrow and ask them the same question, given that it's my ballot (!). But, hey, you might know the answer and this might be applicable to someone else.)
Posted by Cow on November 5, 2012 at 8:25 PM · Report this
Pol Pot 8
How are write ins tabulated?
Posted by Pol Pot http://bottlefuelrag.blogspot.com on November 5, 2012 at 8:45 PM · Report this
Goldy 9
@8 Write-ins are only tabulated generically as write-ins, unless there are enough write-in votes to potentially change the outcome of a race. Then the ballots will be hand counted to determine who the write-ins are for.

@6 I'll follow up tomorrow, but my understanding was that they were keeping tabs on drop boxes, and are prepared to empty them multiple times a day if necessary.

@7 I don't know. I'll ask tomorrow.
Posted by Goldy on November 5, 2012 at 10:26 PM · Report this
Andrew_Taylor 10
The real drawback of our mail-only system is that is ideal for buying votes.
Mr. Slimeball visits you, watches you fill in the ballot as desired, then pays you before leaving with your signed envelope. Much better than the old system of paying you and then hoping that you voted as requested at the polls.
Posted by Andrew_Taylor on November 5, 2012 at 11:16 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 11
i dropped mine off at a ballot box today and there were three people there making sure that everything was running smoothly. they were super nice and cheerful and made it *almost* as fun as in-person voting. yay!

if you haven't done it yet, get to it!
Posted by mr. herriman on November 5, 2012 at 11:31 PM · Report this
sloegin 12
@10 You need to visit and pay off thousands of voters who claim they wouldn't vote your way otherwise to make a tiny dent in the larger vote, pay them what, say $50 each, and then hope every last one of them doesn't rat you out?
Posted by sloegin on November 5, 2012 at 11:33 PM · Report this
TVDinner 13
Thanks, Goldy!
Posted by TVDinner http:// on November 5, 2012 at 11:39 PM · Report this
polkaparty 14
@7 I'm an overseas voter and unable to access the King County Ballot Tracker. When I called King County Elections they told me there is currently no way for them to track e-mailed ballots. After giving them my name they confirmed they received my ballot.
Posted by polkaparty on November 6, 2012 at 2:55 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 15
@10: What the surly penguin said @12.

And there's absolutely no chance that when you offer to buy their vote, people who never (by which I mean "always") have a camera phone in their pocket wouldn't simply take your picture , say "get off my lawn" then call the sheriff to ask where to send the photo of the guy who tried to buy their vote. And given the enormous number of guns in people's homes, you'll certainly want to force your way inside and try to take that phone away from them! What could possibly go wrong? Everyone will be doing it!

Definitely way more risk-free than tampering with the software of black-box voting machines. So lets all worry about easily detected vote buying, instead of the impossible-to-verify electronic fraud that is probably occurring RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on November 6, 2012 at 9:00 AM · Report this
16
@14 thanks! I'll give them a call today, then. (Weirdly enough, I can access the ballot tracker, it just shows it as unreceived.)
Posted by Cow on November 6, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this
17
Just found out at midnight last night that the family of one of our presidential candidates owns the company that owns and/or repairs some of this nation's voting machines. What a sorry state of affairs. This should not be legal in a nation that calls itself a democracy. :(
Posted by Voter Y on November 6, 2012 at 9:48 AM · Report this
18
Just found out at midnight last night that the family of one of our presidential candidates owns the company that owns and/or repairs some of this nation's voting machines. What a sorry state of affairs. This should not be legal in a nation that calls itself a democracy. :(
Posted by Voter 0 on November 6, 2012 at 9:50 AM · Report this
lizlemon 19
What happens if your signature is still waiting to be verified...
I got that letter in the mail saying I could either mail back the verification, email it, or fax it so I faxed it over and it still hasn't been updated yet. Is today the last day to verify my signature? :( Cause I don't have that return envelope anymore and I left the letter at home so I can't re fax it until tomorrow. Kind of bummed!
Posted by lizlemon on November 6, 2012 at 11:18 AM · Report this
20
@19 You have until Nov. 26 to call them back and make sure they verified your signature!
Posted by lhs on November 7, 2012 at 10:46 PM · Report this
21
5

who are you kidding, asswipe

you've never laid your lying eyes on a 'people of color'
Posted by that warm feeling is you pissing in your pants on June 25, 2013 at 8:42 PM · Report this

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