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Ballot counting process explained at forum

While observing vote counting "is like watching paint dry," Skagit County Elections Manager Gabrielle Clay told an audience of about 25 Monday evening at a Skagit League of Women Voters forum, the entire ballot preparation and vote counting and certification process is intricate and takes months from start to end of an election.

Once voters cast their votes, a red-yellow-green step process streamlines the checking and counting of ballots.

Clay reviewed a three step process for voting: Read the voters pamphlet. Research the candidates and issues. Vote.

Washington's high voter turnout percentage is due to residents getting mailed ballots and free, postage paid return mailing. She reminded people that ballots must be postmarked by the date of the election to be counted.

She discussed proper marking of ballots and "leaving some empty if you want," that not every line has to be filled in.

The ballot counting process requires multiple steps starting with automatic sorting and reading of envelope signatures. Questionable signatures are separated for review.

Creating the voters pamphlet is another office function she said. For many voters it is their only source of information. "We are really lucky. Not all states require them," she said. It is available online

Clay welcomed observers. The political parties provide her office names of those wanting to observe. She suggests they watch employees for doing something untoward or out of the ordinary.

Before every election, ballots must be designed based on the number of candidates, races, tax measures and precinct splits. The last is geographic: which taxing districts are holding elections. What is on the ballot and where people live determines the ballot design, Clay explained, showing PowerPoint slides. For the primary there are 21 unique ballot styles. The 2023 election had 92 ballot splits for county voters she said.

The Washington Secretary of State's office requires testing before ballots are finalized. Clays office ran 526 tests to finalize the primary ballot. The public may view the testing process, she said.

She extolled her seasonal election workers, saying, "It is not fair to work 75 year olds 12 hours a day in ax small room with a five person team."

The too small office has long constrained the counting process. It is why the county is always among the last to finish it's vote count. "When we get more space we can count more quickly," she explained."We want more space. We work love to have more people working)."

Their automatic vote sorting machine reads 17,000 ballots an hour. Staff then handles ballots in batches of 100.

This was the third election themed forum held at the Public Utility District's Mount Vernon meeting room. The series of Voter Education presentations on election topics will continue throughout 2024.


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