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How VoteWa debuted in King, Pierce Counties

VoteWa is a system that aligns all 39 Washington counties on election day. (MyNorthwest photo)

The recent primary had more eyes on it than usual, perhaps because it was the first election that Washington used its new VoteWa system.

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Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson watched August 6 as the election was underway and votes were counted. Meanwhile, north of Pierce County, King County Director of Elections Julie Wise was monitoring the primary election in her jurisdiction. Both had very different experiences.

“VoteWa is already showing a lot of value,” Anderson told KIRO Radio. “If this had been a larger election, we would have been really glad VoteWa is here.”

“This primary election really highlighted some areas in which we need to fix prior to going into the general election,” Wise said, commenting that voters received ballots with incorrect information and some were even sent to deceased residents.

VoteWa is Washington’s new election system, aimed at bringing elections into a more modern era. Before the primary, Secretary of State Kim Wyman told KIRO Radio that VoteWa is meant to make elections more secure and protect against things like voter fraud, duplicate voters, and Russian hackers. Washington was among 19 states targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election.

VoteWa doesn’t have anything to do with counting votes, rather, it deals with other aspects of elections, such as same (election) day registration. VoteWa allows the state’s 39 counties to see such updates in real time on election day.

VoteWa in King County

Wise said that King County experienced a “multitude of issues with VoteWa” in the lead up to the primary and on election day.

She says that VoteWa is the right direction for the state to go, but has reservations about how it was implemented. She said there were limited tests prior to the primary, and that King County faced a few “issues.”

“Including issues with mailing addresses, including issues that cropped up in the middle of an election … we saw issues with duplicate ballots being issued to voters with slightly different name differences,” Wise said.

For example, names like O’Neal, which could be spelled with or without an apostrophe. Wise also said that some ballots were sent to deceased voters. Some voters received a ballot with incorrect information on it, such as which district they were to vote on.

“My team worked tirelessly to create workarounds to fix those issues, to get us through this primary election,” she said, affirming that any issues are expected to be “ironed out” by November.

“As the elections director for nearly one third of our voters in Washington state, and an elections administrator for 19 years, I really take the public’s confidence in our election system very seriously,” Wise said. “That’s why I’ve been pretty adamant that I don’t believe you implement election equipment or technology during a live election without proper testing beforehand. It could have been worse, but the team worked really hard here to make sure we had an accurate election.”

VoteWa in Pierce County

Anderson, reports a different experience. In Pierce County, she says election day went well. In fact, said that she “would not want to be an elections administrator anywhere else in country.”

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“The August 6 primary was really smooth, both for our voters and our election workers,” Anderson said. “We wish turnout had been higher, of course, but it felt like an ordinary primary election. Everything proceeded as usual.”

Anderson said that Pierce County did not see any of the issues that King County experienced. There were complexities, she said, but the VoteWa system worked and Pierce County was able to “navigate those complexities well.” While the system worked, she said there will be some tweaks to make it run even better before the November election.

“(VoteWa) is already ready for the November election, but it’s going to be even better,” she said.

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