Find out at myvote.wa.gov
By Stefanie Donahue
Huddled in a small conference room at the Whatcom County Courthouse, members of the county canvassing board voted last week to reject more than 400 general election ballots that were challenged largely due to issues with voter signatures.
The four-person board is made up of Whatcom County auditor Debbie Adelstein, chief deputy auditor Diana Bradrick, Whatcom County prosecuting attorney Royce Buckingham and Whatcom County Council chair Rud Browne. Members are responsible for ruling on the validity of challenged ballots, certifying election results and administering recounts.
In a public meeting held on November 16, the board reviewed challenged ballots one-by-one before making their determination. Approximately 20 people attended the meeting and were not permitted to take notes, photos or record audio, which Adelstein said is typical of Whatcom County Canvassing Board meetings.
The meeting minutes are expected to be posted online to bit.ly/2xRUPdo this week.
A total of 442 challenged ballots were rejected by the canvassing board and 28 were cured, meaning they will be counted, confirmed Whatcom County election supervisor Amy Grasher after the meeting.
Seventeen ballots that were challenged due to questionable voter intent as a result of unclear vote marks were cured as were 11 others that were challenged due to their accompanying signatures not matching those in the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office records system.
Five provisional ballots, which are issued to individuals who might otherwise be denied the opportunity to vote, were rejected as were 411 ballots that were challenged due to ballot signatures not matching those in the auditor’s office records.
Twenty-six ballots that were challenged due to unmatched signatures were also rejected, despite voters sending in a form to the Whatcom County elections division to verify their signature.
Grasher said not all challenged ballots are forwarded to the canvassing board for review. A total of 180 ballots that arrived too late and 60 ballots that were unsigned were automatically rejected.
Challenging a ballot starts with county election division staff, which question ballots that contain an unverifiable signature, unclear vote marks or are placed in an improper envelope, for example.
“If they have any doubt about them,” Adelstein said, “they challenge it.”
Almost all county election division staff are state certified and all have completed both in-house training and Washington State Patrol training to hone their skills in identifying fraud and inconsistencies on a ballot.
Adelstein said members of the canvassing board aren’t required to go through the same training, but said she believes all of them have with the exception of county councilmember Browne.
After a ballot is challenged, the election division mails a form to the voter and makes a single phone call. The voter is required to return the completed form by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, November 26, the day prior to the general election being certified, for their ballot to be cured.
Different forms are sent to voters depending on the reason their ballot was challenged.
If a ballot signature doesn’t match those in the Whatcom County auditor’s office records, for example, the voter is asked to send in their signature. On receipt, the signature is compared to the signature on the ballot envelope; if it matches and meets all remaining eligibility criteria, it can be cured.
Adelstein said the Whatcom County auditor’s office can keep multiple voter signatures on file to reference. Signatures are collected from voters at the time of registration and when a signed form is returned for a challenged ballot, for example; they are not, however, collected and stored each time a voter participates in an election.
Recognizing that signatures change over time, Adelstein said election division staff do their best to be proactive. When they detect that a voter’s signature is changing, staff send a letter to inform the voter once the election is certified. Voters can update their signature at any time by contacting the auditor’s office, Adelstein said.
For the more than 400 voters whose ballots were rejected by the Whatcom County canvassing board last week, and who have yet to return the form they received in the mail, there’s still time. “If their [signed form] comes in and cures it,” Adelstein said, “that ballot can still move forward.”
Completed forms should be sent to the Whatcom County election division at 311 Grand Avenue, Suite 103, in Bellingham. To learn more, call 360/778-5102.
To check if your general election ballot was counted, visit myvote.wa.gov.