You drop your ballot in a box or toss it in the mail – then what? Here’s what happens when those envelopes arrive by the truckload at King County Elections headquarters in Renton.
An automatic sorting machine whirrs all day and into the wee hours of the morning shooting ballots into stacks, which are organized into numbered batches. The machine takes a picture of the signature on each ballot.
Elections workers compare the images of signatures with the signatures the county has on file, usually from driver licenses. King County is expecting voters to cast more than a million ballots this election. An elections workers will review each signature.
If there are any discrepancies, the county will call, email, and send a letter to the voter to confirm that the ballot is, in fact, theirs.
“I call it a little bit of a stalking sort of thing we do,” said Julie Wise, King County Elections Director.
Opening, Inspecting, and Scanning
The busiest part of the 90,000 square foot elections facility is the vast room where pairs of workers open and inspect ballots. They’re looking to make sure the bubbles are filled in properly. Again, if there are any concerns, elections workers will contact the voter.
The final step is to run ballots through scanner machines, which record votes. Votes are not officially counted until 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.
Ceiling-mounted cameras watch over the elections workers, who are wearing color-coded lanyards. They check their personal belongings at a counter when they arrive for their shifts.
An alarm will sound if doors are opened without an official county badge. Some rooms, like the room where the ballot tabulation servers are housed, can only be accessed by certain county staff, who must use a fingerprint scanner to unlock the door.
The tabulation server is on a local network, inaccessible outside of the elections building, a measure that guards against hacking.
Trained elections observers representing political parties roam the facility, keeping a close eye on the activity. They’ve attended a county orientation, which teaches them about the process and how they can help as an added layer of oversight.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the facility and view the ballot counting through windows surrounding the rooms.
Group tours are also making the rounds in the days leading up to the election.
And if you want to watch from the comfort of your home, just click on one of the King Co. Elections live webcams.