With the Nov. 8 General Election less than a week away, Clallam County Elections staff are fielding daily questions while handling day-to-day operations of processing tens of thousands of ballots.
Staff have looked to improve security while calming concerns about the entire process.
Questions have been raised about a range of topics from ballot transportation to tabulation. Elections staff, county officials and political participants shed some light and revelations on the process in Clallam County.
With drop boxes across the county, election staff say Sequim and Port Angeles’ boxes are picked up daily, and three times a week on the West End.
Depending on voter turnout, pickup between Sequim and Port Angeles can be two-three times leading up to and on Election Day, staff report.
Picking up those ballots are background checked county employees, Clallam County Elections Manager Susan Johnson said.
“They go through the same hiring process as all other full-time county employees,” she said.
At least two people pick up each box, with a third person participating for training or heightened security, Johnson said.
Employees ensure each box is sealed and they log in a book the date and time of pick up.
Then ballots are then placed in bags with their own seals and logs and then locked up, Johnson said.
Once at the courthouse, logs are given to elections staff and checked in.
“If there are five bags, the five logs are verified to be accurate and locked into the central election center,” Johnson said.
Layers of security
Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs, running unopposed in this election, said the state’s auditor’s association and Secretary of State’s Office continually strive to improve the elections process and tighten up security.
Those improvements range from upgraded tabulation systems to adding postage to ballots to allowing same day registration up to 8 p.m. on election night in the courthouse.
In a press release, she said the county has “multiple layers of physical measures in place to protect your vote and our elections.”
• In the Election Center, no less than two employees are allowed inside through certification of the Election (Nov. 29) once ballots start coming into the building.
• Ballots are secured overnight with a security seal and log signed by two employees when the cages are opened and closed.
• Election Center doors have security seals when staff are not inside processing ballots. Again, seals are recorded on a log signed by two employees each time the doors are opened or closed.
• To enter the Election Center, only access badges are used. No keys are used. All entries and denied access events are recorded. The door reader system is synced to security cameras at door exteriors.
• Live streaming is available through the county’s YouTube page to watch election tabulation 24/7 through certification; this was implemented in 2021, staff said.
Cameras are tamper-resistant and will send email and text alerts to county personnel when video feed is blocked or disconnected. Lenses are also impact-resistant.
Riggs said the county upgraded the building security cameras to high definition (4K) that cover more areas. Access logs are maintained in a secure, controlled cloud environment for analysis, she said.
Along with keeping ballots safe, county administrator Rich Sill authorized a contract with Norpoint Protective Security of Port Angeles last week to have one security guard in the Elections Center during office hours through December. The contract is $55 per hour.
Clallam County commissioner Mark Ozias said elections staff have received unusual and vague threats and varying levels of intimidation.
“Those are challenging circumstances and we’re doing everything we can to maintain morale while providing a high level of customer service,” he said.
Ozias said commissioners want to keep the environment safe and productive without interruption.
Riggs said they are budgeted for three full-time elections staff, but down a third person as of May. Next year, they’ll work towards hiring a fourth, permanent, part-time employee, too.
Riggs said they have not received any threats this election.
“Every election we receive upset voters on the phone even before 2020,” she said. “We work with whatever their concern. It’s a matter of educating them in the process.”
Leading up to elections, Riggs said they perform logic and accuracy tests on the ballot system and a representative from the Secretary of State’s office comes in and observes to ensure it’s tabulating correctly, too.
“When we do an official logic and accuracy test, we should be at 100 percent accuracy … and once we conclude the test is accurate, we upload it to the Secretary of State’s website to make sure what we have on our machines matches up with their website,” she said.
In that test, they check for over-votes (voting for more than one candidate in a race), under-votes (voting for no candidates), write-ins, blank ballots and any other variables, Riggs said.
“We test for all of it,” she said.
Sandy Ulf, the election observer coordinator for Clallam County Democrats, said the “process is pretty bulletproof.”
“I’ve been doing this eight years, and I have watched them implement more and more technology,” she said.
“Systems are not tied to the internet. They can’t be hacked. They download results onto a thumb drive and upload right to the Secretary of State’s site.”
Ulf said that if the machine rejects a ballot’s signature, voters are notified by mail and then by phone about any issue with their ballot.
A canvassing board consisting of a Clallam County Commissioner (Ozias), a delegate from the Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office, and an Elections Office delegate (not Riggs because she’s running) will consider all challenged ballots.
Ulf said she feels the election process is safe because of “a tremendous amount of double checking (and) every step has security built in.”
Ozias said he feels confident in the local and state process because “there are a number of double checks and safeguards.”
Ozias added that even in close elections, recounts don’t show anything differently in the process.
As reported by the Peninsula Daily News, interest in training to observe election officials count ballots and verify voter signatures has ballooned for the General Election.
For the primary, Riggs allowed two representatives each from the Democratic and Republican parties and one League of Women Voters representative to observe. It was modified for the General Election to allow one from each group in the main room, and another group of three allowed in the annex room.
Riggs said offices across the nation and state have seen an increase in interest. Any unaffiliated people wishing to observe are referred to the League as a nonpartisan group, she said.
Ulf said Clallam Democrats had an influx of people after watching a hearing of the “Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol” discuss threats to elections officials.
“All have been shocked and amazed to learn how secure and safe the process is,” she said.
Alan Lynn, Clallam County Republican Party’s Election Integrity Committee chair, said they saw more interest in observing ballot security before the Primary Election, as there was a push on the Republican side for more transparency.
He said the Republican party held its own in-house training to answer questions they felt were not addressed during the county training.
“We didn’t want to saddle the county with that,” Lynn said. “That was real favorable. Now (participants) have a much better understanding of the process.”
The county sent an “Observer’s Guide” to its trainees, which Lynn said was “almost exactly the same as our follow-up training.”
Lynn said he went into the observation process with no agenda or prejudice to just see the process.
“I learned a lot, and they’ve been good about answering my questions,” he said. “It’s been very pleasant to me.”
He said the “Observer’s Guide” is a step in the right direction.
Through his observations, the election is “safer and more secure than it has been in the past,” Lynn said.
“For the people I’m in contact with, it’s more about transparency,” he said. “There’s so much angst out there. So many people are so concerned. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence people are on.
“People don’t feel the election is fair and transparent. This pulls back the curtain to really see what’s going on. Whether it’s seeing the ballots being processed or before or after that. A lot of that is people just don’t know.”
For more about Clallam County Elections, visit clallamcountywa.gov/162/Elections-Voter-Registration.