One benefit to increased scrutiny of elections is improved transparency. Frequent questions about ballots and how they are counted — and specious claims of fraud — have led to an increased understanding of the process.
Consider an article last week from Columbian reporter Shari Phiel. As county officials processed and counted votes for the Aug. 2 primary, election officials noted that ballots tended to arrive late this year.
According to The Columbian, 143,140 ballots had been received by Clark County Elections as of Tuesday — one week after they needed to be dropped in an official ballot box or postmarked by the United States Postal Service. Approximately 65 percent of those — a total of 65,368 — had arrived the day before, day of, or day after the deadline. Some 46 percent of the total ballots arrived on Election Day alone.
According to Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, the county’s top elections official, the last midterm primary election saw 49,000 ballots arrive at the elections office during the same three-day period in 2018.
The late-arriving ballots led to a slower-than-usual vote count. “We can tabulate hundreds of thousands per day,” Kimsey said. “But what’s necessary to do that is to verify signatures and inspect ballots. It’s the signature-verification process which is the more time-consuming part of the process.”
The point is not to praise nor denigrate late-arriving ballots. The point is to provide transparency that helps the voting public understand the process. Many questions have surrounded election integrity in recent years, fueled in part by Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. A reminder: Some 60 Trump-supporting lawsuits were rejected by the courts for a lack of evidence, including dozens that came before Trump-appointed judges.
Trump’s lies have undermined our democracy, sowing doubt about the integrity of election officials. But they also have inspired officials here and elsewhere to employ additional measures to inform the public about how ballots are collected and counted. That is an important step toward stemming the tide of misinformation that surrounds our elections.
As Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs noted recently during a meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, our vote-by-mail system is more secure than the old in-person voting system. Now, voters can deliver their vote through ballot boxes or in person or through the postal service; previously, votes would be dropped in small cardboard boxes that then had to be delivered to election officials from hundreds of locations.
Throughout Washington, votes received by Aug. 15 this year — the day before election certification — will be counted if they were postmarked by Election Day. This can be frustrating for observers who have to wait for results to trickle in, but it makes sense. If ballots were required to arrive by Election Day, it would leave open the possibility of a postal service delay that renders many votes uncounted. It’s not the voters’ fault if they drop their ballot off in time and it is delivered 10 days later.
The final step of the process depends on the canvassing board. As The Columbian reported last week, the Clark County board met Friday to examine challenged ballots; on Tuesday, the canvassing board will meet again to certify results of the primary election. Both meetings are open to the public.
None of this, it seems, was of public interest a couple years ago, but now it is. The increased knowledge strengthens our democracy.