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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

All systems go: Clark County Elections Office conducts logic, accuracy test ahead of presidential primary

Ballots to be counted on March 12

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 29, 2024, 8:09pm
4 Photos
Observers look on as election coordinator Robert Easterly, foreground, conducts logic and accuracy tests before the March 12 presidential primary at the Clark County Elections Office. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a proofing process that makes sure that everything&rsquo;s correct,&rdquo; Clark County Elections Director Cathie Garber said.
Observers look on as election coordinator Robert Easterly, foreground, conducts logic and accuracy tests before the March 12 presidential primary at the Clark County Elections Office. “It’s a proofing process that makes sure that everything’s correct,” Clark County Elections Director Cathie Garber said. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Election offices in Washington are required by law to test their ballot counting equipment before every election and invite the public to observe. Typically, the tests generate little interest. This year, however, interest in election processes is growing as a contentious presidential election looms.

Ballots for the presidential primary election were mailed out to Clark County voters on Feb. 23, and the Clark County Elections Office is gearing up to count those ballots on March 12.

Clark County elections officials tested tabulation equipment Thursday morning to ensure that the elections office is ready to certify the results. The process, called a “logic and accuracy” test, is required by state law before every election.

The event was open to the public. Observers with the Democratic and Republican parties were there, along with a representative from the Secretary of State’s office, Callin Silvernail.

Because the presidential primary involves federal candidates, a representative from the Secretary of State’s office is required to observe the test.

“When there’s a statewide candidate, that’s kind of our candidate, because they file their Declaration of Candidacy with us,” Silvernail said. “What we’re verifying is that the system, the voting system, is accurately recording the votes on the ballot.”

Elections officials began by testing two “accessible voting units,” machines that allow people with disabilities to vote in person. For example, it can read a ballot to a visually impaired person, and it includes “jelly-buttons” for people with mobility issues who cannot write.

After those machines were programmed properly, officials moved into the ballot tabulation room, a nondescript office with a few quirks: The computer towers are ensconced within steel covers, a security measure, and a small closet in the corner, called the “tabulation closet,” holds the official counting machine.

“These are the towers that we put on lockdown, there’s no way to get to any USB ports,” Elections Director Cathie Garber said.

It’s also a two-person room, meaning no person can enter alone after the logic and accuracy test is complete. That restriction is lifted after the election is certified.

“We have swipe cards to get in that would give us reports of who does come in,” Garber said.

Testing, testing

Officials booted up the towers and began preparing the ballot tabulation system that will produce election results starting at 7:15 p.m. on March 12.

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Clark County Elections Assistant Manager Rich Cooper entered a series of prepared test ballots.

“We run the ballots through, and I have a spreadsheet, I read the results, and you all get to be my proofreaders,” Garber said to the observers. “You get to watch the results that we printed out from the tabulation equipment and make sure it’s counted properly.”

After Cooper finished tabulating the ballots, he shared the results with Garber and Silvernail. They confirmed the results, meaning everything was working properly.

Then, Cooper had the observers sign a document confirming the results, and he locked up the tabulation closet with a yellow, numbered seal.

“We seal this information inside the tabulation closet, and then on election night — and this is always in the presence of observers — we unseal,” Garber said.

“Now that it’s been certified, it’s passed its test, it’s going to be closed off and not accessible until election night,” Cooper added.

To finish the test, Silvernail observed officials as they shared the results with the Office of the Secretary of State.

“After the election, there’s a random batch audit, a last step audit of the system to make sure it did everything correctly,” Silvernail said. “This is kind of an audit before the election. After everything’s certified, we have the election, and after the election, we make sure everything is still good.”

Garber added, “It’s a proofing process that makes sure that everything’s correct.”

Presidential primary unique

Extra steps need to be taken to complete the logic and accuracy test before a presidential primary. That’s because Washington voters are required to declare their preferred party by marking a box on their ballot envelope.

Ballots from voters who do not declare party affiliation will not be counted.

Voters who choose to participate and make the required public declaration of party preference are then required to vote for a candidate of that party. If they vote for a candidate of the other party, or if they vote for more than one candidate, their ballot will be marked as invalid, and it will not be counted. Invalid ballots cannot be corrected.

Declared party preference does not affect how you may vote in future elections, including the November presidential election. Party selection is removed from voter records 60 days after certification of the presidential primary.

The rule creates confusion among voters, Garber said.

“We get about 20 calls and 10 emails about that every single day,” she said. “The process is very different.”

After completion of the test, longtime Democratic observer Carrie Parks reflected on her decade of volunteer service at the elections office.

“These guys have always had high integrity, and I really have a lot of trust and I think they do a good job,” she said. “They’re fair-minded, they’re very nonpartisan, and I couldn’t speak more highly of this group.”

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that ballots marked as invalid will not be counted and cannot be corrected.