Despite the controversy over the 2004 squeaky-close Washington gubernatorial election, with its post-election discovery of uncounted King County absentee ballots, I don’t know that Seattle is any big hotbed of stolen elections. The city certainly doesn’t have the infamous reputation in that regard of Cook County, Ill, where for decades death was not necessarily a major impediment to exercise of the personal franchise around Chicago. And the people who oversee elections in Seattle are surely a cut above what I witnessed 35 years ago as a young newspaper reporter in my native Camden County, N.J., then, at least, one of the country’s most politically corrupt jurisdictions. There, the county Board of Elections in Camden was chaired by a fellow who ended up convicted four times of serious crimes touching upon honesty.
Still, being New To Seattle, I found it a real eye-opener to read the inside front page of the official voters guide I recently received for the August 16 primary and special election. Sherril Huff, King County’s elected elections director (try saying that quickly five times), felt compelled to list all kinds of “security measures” concerning the upcoming vote, which will be conducted entirely by mail.
The recitation in her letter was so long and detailed it makes me think election fraud, or at least its potential, just might be a continuing problem around Seattle. But judge for yourself. After the jump, here verbatim is Huff’s published list sent to every single registered voter–including me–in Washington State’s most populous county:
–Ballot and ballot processing areas are safeguarded by key card access only and biometric controls that check fingerprints.
–All, staff, observers, visitors and media must be credentialed and wear a badge at all times. Color-coded lanyards allow for quick identification of level of security clearance.
–Staff, political party observers and others participate in a Logic and Accuracy Test o ensure equipment will function properly in preparation for each election and that essential security protocols are in place.
–There is no wireless internet at Election headquarters.
–More than 20 security cameras monitor and record activities in and around the building 24 hours a day.
–Sheriff’s deputies patrol the building on key dates and assist with ballot drop box retrieval.
–Building alarm systems are on doors and high security areas.
–Ballots have a batching and tracking system.
–A formal chain of custody process supports all movements of ballots.
–Observers from both political parties are requested to be on site for every election as added assurance of oversight and accountability.
–The 13-member Citizen’s Election Oversight Committee is appointed by the County Council and monitors each county election.
Now, consider a few slightly different scenarios. Suppose you went into a bank you hadn’t patronized and immediately was handed a flyer listing all the steps taken to try to keep your deposits from being stolen. Or into a strange restaurant and given a menu with a page reciting a plethora of measures enacted to cut down on food poisoning.
Might you conclude from all the proffered detail something’s been going on?
From what I can tell, King County spends $18 million annually on elections. That works out to about $25 per actual voter. According to one database I found, Huff is paid $154,138. That amounts to 20 cents for each voter who at some point during the year takes the time to fill out and return the mail ballot.
Nobody ever said democracy was cheap.
But there’s more! Huff invited us in her letter to watch on a webcam feed the mail ballots actually being opened by her staff at the elections headquarters in suburban Renton. When it’s on, the camera takes in about 20 desks in a scene with the look and excitement of a high school study hall. It’s right up there with the video feed at Watching-Paint-Dry.com and its sister site, Watching-Grass-Grow.com.
But think about it. There must be reasons why such video surveillance was deemed necessary in Seattle on top of everything else. Besides its length, Huff’s list was striking to me for one other reason. The measures were largely directed at the people doing the counting–her own employees–rather than those doing the voting.
Now I’d say that’s not much of a vote of confidence in government. Even by the low standards set in the counties of Cook and Camden.
Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.