OLYMPIA – Amid the high-turnout midterm election in Washington, local officials have been contending with a technical slowdown in VoteWA, the state’s elections system.
The primary cause appears to be the length of time it takes to load images used to verify voters’ signatures, said Stuart Holmes, elections director at the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.
“It’s just poor system performance, is a real plain English way of putting it,” said Julie Anderson, Pierce County auditor. “And it’s preventing us from, in a timely manner, verifying all the signatures that we have to, because we have to verify the signature of every single voter on every single ballot.”
For each ballot, an election administrator must verify the signature on the ballot envelope.
As part of that process, the system also pulls up a “library” of the voter’s signatures, as well as signatures of other people in that voter’s household, Holmes said.
Retrieving all those images at the same time is taxing the system.
“I believe that to be the primary contributor to the slowness in the initial processing of returned ballots,” Holmes said in an email to The Seattle Times.
The slowdown is not affecting the accuracy of the results, Anderson said.
“Everybody should know that this is not impacting the accuracy or the integrity of the election, it’s only the speed of production,” said Anderson, who herself was a candidate for secretary of state this year. She conceded to Steve Hobbs late Thursday.
In King County, the VoteWA issue had slowed ballot counting “a little bit but not significantly,” said Halei Watkins, communications officer for King County Elections, in an email to The Seattle Times.
“We’re pretty fortunate in King that we have a large enough team that we can typically move folks around to keep the work flowing well,” Watkins said.
Since 2020, the volume of images in the VoteWA system has doubled, Holmes said.
Since that year, more Washington counties have installed mail-sorting equipment that can take a picture of the whole envelope as well as a cropped picture of the signature area, and the system also keeps an image of every notice sent to the voter, he said.
Holmes said “this incident does underscore the need to consistently upgrade our systems so we can continue to meet the new and exciting demands that come with more people participating in our democratic processes.”
More than 2.4 million ballots had been accepted as of Wednesday evening, the Secretary of State’s Office said Thursday.
About 10,000 new voters were registered the day of the election. Those new registrations might be a secondary factor in the processing slowdown, Holmes said.
That’s because more high-resolution images of registration forms, and of signatures on the forms, have been added to the system at the same time as administrators have been retrieving images of signatures corresponding to previously registered voters.
Holmes said the Secretary of State’s Office learned of the issue on the morning of Election Day.
“At that time it was far too late to make any significant changes to the system to alleviate the data processing slowness related to the image retrieval,” Holmes said. “We were able to implement a stop-gap solution to mitigate immediate performance issues while still maintaining system stability now through certification.”
The Secretary of State’s Office described the VoteWA issue as “temporary” in a Thursday press release.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jim Brunner contributed.