As Donald Trump continues to say, without evidence, that the election may be rigged against him, state and local election officials call his statements absurd. Here’s how votes are counted in King County.
King County is the 13th-largest county in the country. It is urban. It is diverse. It votes entirely by mail. It is politically dominated by Democrats.
If Washington were a swing state, this is the kind of place Donald Trump would probably be accusing of election fraud.
“So many cities are corrupt,” the Republican nominee said on Monday. “Voter fraud is very, very common.”
In Wednesday’s final presidential debate he famously refused to say if he would accept the results of the election.
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On Thursday he said he would accept the results — if he wins.
Inside the King County Elections facility, a sprawling, open-space, plexiglass-walled room of computers, scanners and election workers, Elections Director Julie Wise scoffed at such talk.
“Wrong. Not true. Inaccurate,” Wise said of Trump’s allegations. “It’s really unfair, because I don’t want it to deter people from voting. Voting is your voice.”
State and local officials of both parties call Trump’s claims ridiculous, and election officials point to the dozens of safeguards in place to protect the process.
Wise said King County has made more than 400 changes to its voting system since the 2004 gubernatorial race was decided by just 129 votes, after hundreds of misplaced ballots were found prior to a hand recount.
It took two recounts and a lawsuit before that election was settled, and the losing candidate, Republican Dino Rossi, didn’t concede until months after the winner, Democrat Chris Gregoire, had been inaugurated.
Most notably among the changes: Since 2009, voting has been done entirely by mail. The county sent out nearly 1.3 million ballots this week. Instead of hauling ballots from polling places to four separate counting sites, all ballots are now counted in this Renton building that was designed, with the help of a security firm that works with casinos, specifically for the task.
The building is surrounded by 22 security cameras. No computers in the facility have ever been connected to the internet. It takes a key card to enter the facility, and the most secure areas — ballot storage and the server that tabulates the results — can only be accessed by fingerprint scan, and two or more people must be present.
The public can walk a one-fifth mile loop that rings the room to watch and listen to the whole process. And, come Monday, when completed ballots start rolling in, webcams will live stream the action.
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“I really want the King County voters to feel confident in their system,” Wise said. “As they should.”
When ballots come in, the signature on each envelope is scrutinized by staff — trained by the Washington State Patrol — and compared to the voter’s signature on file. About 2 percent are unsigned or have some irregularity, in which case staff contacts the voter.
If someone’s signature appears to be shifting over time — as is often the case — the voter is notified and nudged to update the signature on file. Wise herself got a form letter (from herself) earlier this year, saying she may want to update her signature.
It works much the same way in every county.
“We really do check every single signature on every single envelope,” said Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel. “I don’t think people really think we do that, but we do.”
Ballots, removed from any personally identifying information, are then inspected by hand. Damaged or irregularly marked ones are reviewed by teams of two to ascertain the voter’s intent.
All others are fed into scanning machines to be counted.
The other part of the process is the voter registration list.
Lorraine Minnite, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and the author of a 2010 book “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” noted that there are dozens of federal and state laws governing the management of voter registration lists.
“There’s no support for what he is saying, there’s no evidence for what he is saying,” Minnite said of Trump. “I think it’s very irresponsible.”
Since that contested 2004 election, Washington has developed a statewide voter registration database to replace the 39 separate lists previously kept by county auditors.
The Secretary of State’s office and county auditors work together to regularly update the list, using state and federal data to remove felons, duplicates and the deceased.
In 2007, seven workers for the ACORN community organizing group were charged with forging nearly 1,800 voter registrations at the Seattle Public Library as a way to boost their pay. Then-Secretary of State Sam Reed called it the worst case of voter-registration fraud in state history, though none of the phony registrations led to illegal voting.
Washington is, however, one of just a few states that do not require proof of citizenship to vote. That’s because Washington has not complied with a 2005 federal law that requires proof of citizenship or legal status to get a driver’s license that can be used as ID for things like voter registration.
The federal government has said it will grant no more waivers for the law and that Washington must comply by 2018.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, called last month for legislation to align Washington with the federal law. She has also been vocal in her “full and complete confidence” in the election system, despite the words of her party’s standard-bearer.
In a recent news release that did not mention Trump, Wyman wrote that “This kind of baseless accusation is irresponsible and threatens to undermine voter confidence on this most basic foundation of democracy.”
Jaxon Ravens, chairman of the state Democratic Party, called Trump’s remarks “inexcusable” and said he was “attacking democracy.”
Even Susan Hutchison, chairman of the state Republican Party and a steadfast Trump supporter, disavowed his accusations of a rigged election, at least in Washington state.
“With Kim Wyman as secretary of state,” Hutchison said in an email, “our election will be fair.”