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Spokane County touts election transparency methods in place for midterms

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Rebecca White, SPR News
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Spokane County's election processing center.

There is no credible evidence of problems with the way Spokane County conducts elections. But voters worried about ballot security might be reassured by two methods of keeping an eye on things this year.

The first is an online system for tracking ballots. After your ballot is put into a drop box or into the mail, you can track its progress online through VoteWA.gov (after signing in, click the “ballot status” option on the left-hand column). Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton says that kind of transparency is helpful for voters. And it includes lots of information.

“[Voters can] see when we sent [a ballot] out to them, to see when we received it back – or if we received it back. To see if we processed their signature, and the results – was it accepted, or was it challenged?” Dalton said. “And then, have we accepted their signature and sent the ballot off to have the envelope opened, and the ballot removed to be tabulated. That way, voters can watch what’s actually happening.”

Following your ballot online isn’t new to this election, but county officials are reminding people that the service is available.

An election security measure that is new this fall is a camera system that monitors the entrances to the downtown Spokane processing center where ballots are taken and counted.

The devices went live this month, Dalton said. A statement from Spokane County government said the devices record access points to the processing center 24 hours a day. They are masked from recording confidential data about voters that might be shown on computer workstations.

The cameras are not meant to monitor the spaces where ballots are opened and tabulated. For that, humans have a role. Spokane County says about 140 full-time and part-time workers are helping with ballot processing this year. 212 public observers have been trained “to help keep an extra set of eyes on the election process,” according to the county.

Members of the Spokane County GOP have echoed widespread claims among Republicans that voting processes and the machines used to tabulate ballots are suspect, and that voter rolls have room for fraud. No proof has been submitted that any fraud has taken place, or that any election results have diverged from how Spokane County voters actually voted. This past summer, the Spokane County Commission turned down a request from Republican Party leaders to conduct a third-party investigation of the county’s election machines and procedures.

Earlier this autumn, some local conservative activists planned to train box watchers to monitor locations in person. Dalton said Friday the auditor’s office had yet to receive any reports of watchers hanging out around the receptacles.

Watching drop boxes isn’t illegal, but Dalton said interfering with someone trying to deposit their ballot or trying to intimidate them is. Voters who feel they encountered problems in trying to use a drop box can contact the auditor’s office.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.