Washington’s same-day voter-registration law and new elections system faced a major stress test Tuesday as voters around the state returned ballots for the primary election.
The new statewide voter management system, VoteWA, had a rocky rollout this spring, but county auditors Tuesday said it was running smoothly as the 8 p.m. election deadline came and went.
“Everything went according to plan and worked out really well,” said King County Elections Director Julie Wise after Tuesday night’s election results posted. She previously had expressed concerns about the system being ready for the primary.
Turnout in King County was projected to hit 36%, and possibly be a few points higher than that in Seattle, where seven City Council seats are up for grabs.
VoteWA, which is rooted in a centralized voter-registration database, is expected to cut the risk of fraud, strengthen the security of the state’s elections and give many counties new elections capabilities.
Tests this spring revealed a range of problems in the system, and officials at a handful of counties — including King County — voiced concerns about whether or not VoteWA was ready to handle an election.
Secretary of State’s Office Kim Wyman has said those issues — which included missing apartment numbers on voter addresses and an inability to translate election materials into all five languages required by King County — were quickly fixed. Wyman has said she was confident the system would handle the primary.
Auditors for Snohomish, Chelan, Clark and Mason counties also reported that VoteWA was functioning well — and that new voter registration was light. Tuesday’s election was first in which citizens could register to vote on Election Day.
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey and Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore both said the system worked well and that their offices each saw only a handful of people registering to vote on Tuesday.
In Mason County, “Not a soul has registered today,” Auditor Paddy McGuire said Tuesday evening, adding: “It’s going smoothly.”
Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said up to 20 new voters registered Tuesday at the elections office in Everett, with another handful registering at a regional vote center the county opened in Lynnwood.
King County saw more new voters registering Tuesday — but not in droves.
The primary election period represented a chance for the county to test out a series of regional vote centers where people can register or update their voter information, and then vote.
On Tuesday, 51 people had registered to vote at the King County centers through 3 p.m. that day, according to King County Elections. Another 93 people made changes to their voter-registration status — such as updating an address — through 3 p.m.
Since the King County vote centers first opened late last month, 206 people registered to vote and 317 made changes to their registration as part of the new same-day voter law.
Three people showed up together at the Federal Way 320th Library Tuesday afternoon, each with different voter-registration issues. All their issues were resolved.
When she tried to vote last year, Melissa Pederson learned that the signature on her ballot didn’t match the one in King County Elections files. The problem, she said, ultimately cost Pederson her vote.
She dropped by the new regional vote center and got the signature issue fixed.
“Love it,” said Pederson, a 39-year-old school counselor, as she walked out after casting her vote.
Her daughter, 19-year-old Ebonie Pederson, said her voter registration got her name wrong. That problem also was fixed.
Accompanying them was Ebonie Pederson’s boyfriend, Tre Christopher. Christopher said it was his 18th birthday. He registered and cast his first ballot, saying, “It gives you a little more freedom, once you’re able to vote.”
The VoteWA system, which is spearheaded by the Secretary of State’s Office in collaboration with the counties, will be refined further before the Nov. 5 general election.
Washington’s vote-counting machines are separate from VoteWA and aren’t connected to the internet, and so wouldn’t be affected by any problems with the new system.
State lawmakers and elections officials advocated for implementing both VoteWA and same-day registration in the 2019 elections. Odd-numbered “off-year” elections largely feature local races that draw fewer voters and are less likely to tax the new systems.
The goal is work out any problems before the 2020 elections, when voters will turn out in large numbers to cast ballots for president, governor, state attorney general and other high-profile races.