When Washington state legislators took up Election Day voter registration last year, Secretary of State Kim Wyman implored them to reconsider the timeline.
That was her word — implore — in a Feb. 7, 2018 public hearing during which she told lawmakers she supported the idea of same-day registration but had concerns about the June 30 implementation date.
“The problem is that it would force the counties to implement this bill before the technology is in place to make it work,” the state’s chief elections officer explained. Lawmakers, as evidenced by floor debate, chose to ignore her.
And here we are.
As The Seattle Times has reported, elections officials have rushed to develop, test and activate elections software that will enable Election Day registration in time for the Aug. 6 primary. In King County, with 337 races and a near-record number of candidates running, officials last Friday said they continued to wrestle with a system that was cutting off foreign addresses and misidentifying some precincts — a problem which, if uncorrected, could result in voters’ receiving improper ballots in the mail.
King County Elections Director Julie Wise said that with printing deadlines approaching, her staff is working overtime to enter backlogged data and new registrations into the system while ensuring each of 117 different ballot styles are properly matched to the county’s nearly 1.3 million registered voters. It did not have to be this way.
Certainly, the upgrade is needed. The VoteWA network is the final step in a five-year overhaul of the state’s elections infrastructure. It replaces 15-year-old, end-of-life technology. It will enable real-time information-sharing to ensure that Election Day registrants do not attempt to register and vote in multiple counties.
The bugs identified by users — improperly formatted addresses, missing apartment numbers, problems with translations — are solvable and not particularly unusual. Wyman told us many have already been fixed. Her staff and the vendor are working to resolve lingering errors and performance issues. She said contingency plans are in place, but she is confident VoteWA will work.
Lawmakers could allocate additional resources to the project, if need be, in a July work session, Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, chair of the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee, told the Times.
Even so, in King County, Wise’s staff has developed “workarounds” to stay on the safe side. They recommend that newly registered voters and those who recently changed their registration contact the county elections office to make sure everything is in order. Anyone who does receive the wrong ballot for their address should do the same.
People are working hard to ensure the primary election runs smoothly and that every vote is counted. Almost certainly, the current software struggles are mere bumps along a path to a smoother road.
But it is worth noting: Much of this drama and uncertainty might have been avoided if lawmakers had only listened to Wyman’s warning.