Getting ready for the general election: Testing the systems
A small crowd gathered just outside of the ballot tabulation room in the Pierce County Elections Center on the morning of Oct. 17. Pens and packets showing expected results were placed in front of the observers who were ready to catch any mistakes — they were there to make sure Pierce County’s ballot counting system is ready for the general election.
In the lead-up to the election, counties are preparing by running their ballot-counting systems through logic and accuracy tests. The tests, mandated by Washington state law, involve running a set of test ballots with pre-determined results, to ensure the machines are reading and counting the ballots accurately, before voters’ real ballots begin coming in.
“It’s part to assure our voters to make sure they know our systems are accurate, and to also make sure we know they’re accurate as elections administrators,” said Kyle Haugh, Pierce County’s elections manager. “We are always testing ourselves and testing our systems to make sure everything’s working properly.”
These tests are open to the public. County staff, along with the deputy county auditor, state representatives — including from the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office and volunteer observers from the Democrat, Independent and Republican parties — watched the process in Pierce County and certified the tabulation system.
It’s required that observers from the major parties witness and certify the test, and volunteers like these are trained through the county.
Christopher Johnson is the Republican election observer coordinator. He said he’s been observing these tests for about 16 years, and said when everything is going right, the process can be a little underwhelming.
“We want it to be boring. I’ve described it as not watching paint dry, it’s like watching other people watch paint dry,” Johnson said. “But critically important.”
The test ran smoothly for the county, with the three observers chatting amongst themselves and asking questions. Representing different political parties, they all come together with the same interest — to ensure the right checks and balances are in place.
“This whole observation process only works because the two parties work together,” Johnson said. “I tell my volunteers that come here, they have to work well with others, including people they disagree with.”
It was Evan Davies’ first time sitting in as the Independent observer. Going into it, he said he didn’t have any assumptions of what it would be like, but after watching the process he described as thorough and open. He said it gave him more knowledge of how the system works — knowledge he plans to share.
When he has conversations with others that might express skepticism of the system used to count up our votes every election, Davies said he hopes to engage and clear that skepticism away.
“I definitely get the sense that those in charge would like to see definitely more people, so they can reinforce how well and how open and I guess fair the election process in counting ballots here within Pierce County is done,” Davies said.
The Democratic election observer did not wish to be identified but shared how important it is to have observers.
When the ballots for the general election start coming in, the public is again invited to observe the process of counting these votes. That will start Monday, Oct. 23, and processing can last up to 21 days after Election Day, until Nov. 27. The public is welcome to come to the Elections Center and gather outside the ballot tabulation room, where big windows will let them see the votes being counted.