Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Friday, December 24, 2004

What Happens in an Election

I spent 100's of hours observing the ballot handling for the Democratic Party in Washington this fall and I have found that most people don't understand the process or how it works. For you legal types, here's the regs:

As soon as the what's going to be voted on is decided, voters information phamplets and punchcards are printed and sent to all registered overseas voters -- unsually 3 months prior to the election date. Soon after the September primary, the absentee ballots are sent out. The County I observed in has about an 80% registered absentee rate. They immediately start coming back. In my County, the Canvassing Board has delegated approval of ballots to the Auditor. The ballots were always under dual control and were locked up when not being worked on.

The ballots come in from the Post Office and the signature on the envelope is verified to the signature kept in the registered voter database. That verification process also enters a code into the database that records that a vost was cast and the date of that vote.

If the signatures match, the envelopes are moved to another area where workers open the envelope and inspect the punchcards. They remove hanging chads; make sure there are no marks, no creases, no tears. If everything is OK the punch card goes in a bin which is locked in a fire resistent cabinet until election night. If there is problem with the punchcard it goes to "duplication" where 2 experienced election workers record the ballot and duplicate the voters intent on a clean punch card. The dulicated punch cards are put with the register in a sealed envelope and its all locked away. The duplicate is added to the bins with the other clean punch cards.

On election night around 6 PM, the cards are taken to the card readers and the counting begins. Sometime after 8 PM, the results from the polling places start arriving. The cards are in sealed blue bags (where the voters have deposited their punch cards). Again the cards are checksed for chads, and folds. and duplicated if necessary. Then the cards from the polling places are counted.

Even with record voter turn out (83% of the registered voters), Thurston County had a full provisional count before midnight. The provisional count is announced and sent electronically to the Secretary of State.

A couple days later, the Canvassing Board met. Thurston County's board consists of 2 deomcrats and the republican County Auditor. The Auditor was sworn in and certified the provisional vote and then the Board started reviewing ballots rejected from the original processing. Several had mismatch signatures. One individual tried to vote 3 times at different polling places with provisional ballots. Some the voter intent wasn't immediately apparent to the election worker so the Commission tried to determine it. There was one polling place that had 25 provisional ballots where the voters were not registered. This polling place was near WalMart were a guy was reported as registering folks and then tossing out the registration cards for the people that identified themselves as democrats. I have to hand it to this Board -- they took their job seriously and tried to give every voter their vote. Where fraud was suspected, a referal was made to the Sheriff. All new votes were added to the provisional and the election was certified.

The governor's race was so close that an automatic machine re-count was ordered. A week later they conducted a machine recount of only those votes certified. It took all day and Christine gregoire got 2 extra votes and Dino Rossi got 4 more votes.

Weeks later the hand recount began. Each table was given a precinct to count. There was a representative from the republican party and one from the democrats at each table with an election worker as judge. They counted 15 more for Christine Gregoire, 13 more for Dino Rossi, and 1 more for Ruth Bennett (Libertarian).

The total votes were Gregoire: 58,970 -- Rossi: 49,426.

I think the vote in Thurston County was fair, transparent, and every effort was made to count every possible vote. The Auditor and her staff made me feel welcome as a partician observer and answered all my questions. I think they can be a model of how an election should be run.


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