Vote with Confidence
Election security in Spokane County
Having confidence in your vote starts with having confidence in the system. That’s why Spokane County Elections, working with the Washington Office of the Secretary of State, takes seriously the responsibility for securing your ballot.
Below, you can learn more about election security in Spokane County:
Why does Washington use paper ballots?
Paper ballots provide you more time (typically an 18-day voting period) to learn about the candidates and issues. They also help to confirm your choices before sealing and signing your ballot envelope. You can vote by mail or put your ballot in a secured county drop box until 8 p.m. Election Day without standing in line at a voting precinct. Paper ballots also increase voter turnout and provide a secure and durable record of your vote, allowing Spokane County elections officials to do accurate audits and recounts when needed.
What happens to my ballot after I return it by mail or put it in a drop box?
Once you have mailed or dropped off your ballot with Spokane County Elections, your envelope is scanned to verify that: 1) no other ballot has been returned by you; and 2) the ballot you returned is the current ballot for your address.
Next, the signature on the envelope is compared with your voter registration signature. If the signature matches, your ballot is accepted. If your signature does not match or is missing, you will be notified by mail. Accepted ballots are then opened and separated from the signature envelopes. At this point, your ballot is anonymous and grouped with other ballots to be scanned and counted.
Ballots are reviewed by teams of “adjudicators.” If the voter intent of any race or issue is in doubt (example: when a voter changes their mind and makes a correction), the adjudicators follow statewide standards to determine the intent of the vote. Once a ballot is scanned, it is sealed and stored in secure containers throughout the election, as results are verified, certified, and audited.
What security steps, or “chain of custody,” are taken for ballots placed in a drop box?
A team of trained Spokane County employees are always present when your ballot is handled. Teams regularly collect ballots during the voting period from more than 25 secure drop boxes throughout the county. Teams record each visit, seal each bag of ballots collected, and return sealed bags of ballots on the same day to the county elections office, ensuring that no unauthorized contact is made with your ballot.
Party observers can watch over ballot drop box pickup, signature verification, opening of envelopes, and the scanning and adjudication of ballots. Ballots are sealed in secure containers throughout the election and a minimum of two staff are present whenever your ballot is handled.
How are ballots counted?
Ballots are scanned throughout the voting period, before and after Election Day, as they are processed and accepted. Tabulation—counting the votes on the ballots—begins after 8 p.m. Election Day. Since many ballots are already scanned before Election Day, it only takes the tabulator a few seconds to total up the votes, which is why preliminary election results can be reported soon after 8 p.m. Election Day.
How do I know if my ballot has been received and accepted?
Visit VoteWa.gov, submit your name and birthdate, and check “Ballot Status” to confirm that your ballot was received. Please allow 3-5 business days for your ballot to be received and posted to VoteWa.gov.
Why must my return envelope be signed?
To help prevent voter fraud and to ensure your ballot is counted, the signature on your return envelope is compared to those signatures on your voter registration record. Ballots returned in only security envelopes cannot be counted because there is no way to verify the ballot belongs to a specific voter.
Before returning your ballot, please sign the oath on the return envelope. If your signature is missing or doesn’t seem to match, your ballot is “challenged” and you will be notified, giving you the opportunity to update your signature on file to make sure your vote is counted.
Once your signature is verified, your ballot is separated from the envelope and becomes anonymous. If you have misplaced your return envelope – that’s the envelope that requires your signature – please contact Spokane County Elections for a replacement.
How are signatures verified?
Once your ballot return envelope is scanned, Spokane County election workers compare the signature that was on your ballot return envelope to the signature(s) on your voter registration record. If the signatures match, your ballot envelope is accepted, and your ballot will be processed. If the signatures are deemed not to match, or if the signature is missing, the ballot return envelope is flagged for further review.
Spokane County election workers who review ballot signatures must first complete state-sponsored signature verification training provided by the same Forensic Document Examiners used at the Washington State Patrol. In addition, “challenged” ballots are sent to a supervisor for a final decision.
Signatures that cannot be verified are the most common cause of challenged ballots at Spokane County Elections. Election officials make extra effort to notify you by phone or mail if your signature is missing or doesn’t seem to match the signature on file, giving you the opportunity to update your signature and ensure your vote is counted.
How many ballot signatures typically fail to be verified, disqualifying these ballots from the final count?
A ballot packet may be rejected if: a) the signature on the ballot return envelope doesn’t match the signature on the registration record; b) the ballot return envelope was unsigned; or c) the ballot was postmarked too late.
The percentage of rejected ballots in Spokane County is typically very low, as county election staff encourage voters whose ballots have been “challenged” to update their signatures in time to still be counted. For example, of the 225,064 Spokane County voters who submitted ballots in the November 2022 General Election, just 2,443, or 1.09 percent of the total, were rejected by the Spokane County Canvassing Board.
What does it mean when a signature isn’t initially verified, but later stamped “signature verified?”
A “signature verified” ballot is the term for a ballot packet that had to be hand processed and repackaged because either a replacement ballot packet was printed from home, an email ballot packet was sent by military or overseas voter, or an envelope arrived at the county mangled or partially unreadable. If county election workers can verify the signature from the ballot packet, trained staff will stamp it “signature verified” to ensure the ballot passes signature verification.
Could a person vote twice?
A voter may request a replacement ballot if their ballot has been lost or damaged. Also, a voter will be sent a re-issued ballot if the Elections Office receives an address update for the voter after ballots have been mailed.
However, the voter database system keeps a record of all ballots issued to each individual voter. If a voter returns more than one ballot, the system notifies the election administrators. Administrators review to see which ballot is the most current. The most current ballot then goes through the signature verification process. Any other ballot returned by the voter is considered void and not counted.
Are votes sent across the internet?
Nope. All voting in Washington State is done by mail and without electronic voting machines. Voters cannot vote online, but they can print a replacement ballot packet from the online voter portal if needed and return the replacement ballot packet by mail or ballot drop box. Only paper ballots submitted by registered voters with verifiable signatures are counted. Military and overseas voters are eligible to return their ballot by email, but ballots still go through the same signature verification process.
When are scanners used to read ballots? And who is watching the scanners?
Teams of trained Spokane County employees operate the scanners under the watch of political party observers. Surveillance video records all employees and observers entering and leaving the scanning room. In addition, scanners and voting systems are stored in locked and sealed rooms throughout the election, and election staff must record each time the scanning room is opened and always in groups of two or more.
Can voters use an “unofficial ballot” to vote?
No, there is no such thing as an “unofficial ballot.” However, some have confused replacement ballots printed from home as “unofficial” because when printed out, they look different than traditional ballots. Printed replacement ballots are an option for military personnel or others voting overseas, or for voters who have lost or damaged their ballot. These printed replacement ballots may be counted if you sign the signature declaration and return the ballot before the election deadline.
How are write-in votes counted?
Under state law, election officials do not tally write-in votes unless a person has filed as a write-in candidate and the total write-in votes in the race are greater than the highest vote getter. Write-in candidates may declare right up until 8 p.m. Election Day.
Do I have to vote on every race on my ballot?
No, you are free to vote only for those races or issues that interest you. An unmarked race will be tallied as an “Undervote.” If a voter, instead of filing in the oval, circles a candidate or puts an X or check mark through the oval, the tabulation system routes the ballot to county election workers for review. This requires extra time, as workers carefully follow the Office of the Secretary of State’s Voter Intent Manual guidelines to determine whether the vote should be counted based on the markings left by the voter.
Who monitors video cameras at Spokane County Elections?
All entries to the county elections center are recorded by motion-detection video cameras. Video is not streamed live, but recorded and stored for later review, if needed.
Are cell phones allowed where ballots are sorted, opened, verified, and counted?
Spokane County election supervisors or managers occasionally must take calls from ballot collection teams or other county officials, so they are the only employees authorized to operate cell phones in the balloting areas. Other county employees are prohibited from using cell phones in the processing areas and observers are asked to keep phones in their pockets or leave them outside. No recordings are allowed except during public meetings.
Are voting systems tested before an election?
Yes. Before every election, counties conduct a Logic and Accuracy test of their voting systems to make sure the machines are correctly set up and accurately counting votes. Election officials scan a stack of test ballots with a known outcome to make sure the voting system reports the same answer.
Spokane County Elections’ voting system has been certified by an independent testing authority and the State of Washington. These tests include security reviews as a part of their overall testing efforts. In addition, the Office of the Secretary of State reviews each county periodically to make sure election equipment is functioning correctly and all election laws and rules are being properly followed. After this review, the county receives a report of needed changes, and a follow-up visit is made to ensure corrections are implemented.
Finally, voting systems are on an air-gapped network, which means the network cannot connect to the internet and is incapable of wireless communication. In Spokane County, the voting system vendor is Clear Ballot, a firm used by nearly half of all Washington counties, including Benton, King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.
Are elections audited?
Yes, as ballots arrive, your local election officials keep detailed records of the steps taken to process each ballot or group of ballots. A final report at the end of the process includes a summary of how many ballots were received, how many ballots were counted, and how many ballots remained in a “challenged” status and were rejected by the county Canvassing Board.
By comparing the numbers of ballots throughout the process, Spokane County elections officials can demonstrate that every ballot received was handled properly, and that the number of ballots counted corresponds to the number of voters who participated in the election. Tracking ballots creates an audit trail that assists state and county decision-makers to better identify and understand trends in elections.
In addition, Spokane County conducts post-Election Day audits to ensure voting systems are counting correctly. The audits are conducted one of two ways: by batch audit or risk-limiting audit. A batch audit begins right after Election Day when audit teams hand count randomly selected precincts or ballot batches and compare those numbers with the voting system totals. A risk-limiting audit relies on scientifically tested statistical probabilities to verify results. Election officials compare randomly selected ballots to the voting system results. If an election is close, they will check more ballots.
What training is required for Certified Election Administrators?
Certified Election Administrators must attend a two-day Elections 101 class, get another 40 hours of work-related education, and pass an exam that tests their knowledge of election laws and procedures. They must also work in elections for two years to gain relevant experience before certified and must renew their certification every two years with continued education and training classes.
Your ballot’s journey.
Ever wonder what happens to your ballot after you mail it? Or when you place it in a county drop box? Here’s the journey your ballot takes when you vote: