Aug 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Inside Washington state's all-mail elections

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who oversaw some of the state's earliest all-mail elections, gave "Axios on HBO" an inside look at how it works as states prepare for record levels of vote-by-mail returns ahead of November.

Why it matters: "Election officials know that democracy is really resting in our hands," said Wyman, "and we have to inspire confidence in our harshest critics, whether they are in the living room or in the White House."

  • Most states have little experience with widespread mail-in absentee voting. They're looking for advice from Washington officials who have held all-mail elections since 2011.
  • Meanwhile, President Trump continues to rail against mail-in voting, claiming without evidence that it will lead to widespread voting fraud.
  • Election workers follow stringent processes to ensure ballots are counted accurately and are trained to watch for signs of fraud.

How it works: The budgeting for election processes and equipment in Washington state begins years in advance. Machines and election workers in Seattle scan and analyze ballots to verify that they have been cast by real, living voters.

  • Workers are trained to spot differences between a voter's signature on a ballot and other signatures on file, such as a driver's license or a voter registration form.
  • A machine opens ballot envelopes to protect voter privacy — preventing election workers from connecting voters to their vote.
  • Ballots with unclear check marks, light markings or atypical marks are analyzed to ensure they're counted the way the voters intended.

The bottom line: Faith in the 2020 election outcome will rely heavily on local and state election officials' ability to successfully pull off an election like none other. "If you think back to 2016, even though people didn't like the results, they believed it was a fair election. It's going to be even harder to do that this year," Wyman said.

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