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Monday, January 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Whitman County auditor explains long process of tallying votes

The proposed addition to Pullman Regional Hospital is depicted in this rendering as the middle building. Voters narrowly rejected the project in November. (Pullman Regional Hospital / Courtesy)
The proposed addition to Pullman Regional Hospital is depicted in this rendering as the middle building. Voters narrowly rejected the project in November. (Pullman Regional Hospital / Courtesy)
By Anthony Kuipers Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Whitman County Auditor said her staff worked 16-hour days processing voter ballots following the Nov. 5 election.

Even with those long hours, hundreds of ballots remain uncounted more than a week after Election Day as Sandy Jamison’s staff tries to sort out the questionable ballots, which take longer to process.

“I think the public isn’t aware of just how much time it takes to get through ballots,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Pullman Regional Hospital’s $29 million bond and other too-close-to-call races hang in the balance.

With an estimated 450 ballots left to count, Jamison said the majority of the remaining ballots either have been improperly marked in some way or have a faulty signature.

These problematic ballots are placed into a separate batch and processed separately from the correctly filled ones.

Describing an example of an improperly marked ballot, Jamison said some voters have colored in both bubbles for an initiative and then crossed out one of those filled-in bubbles.

Jamison said Washington is a “voter intent” state, which means the ballot is still valid if the voter’s intent can be determined.

According to the Washington Secretary of State, the bubble that is not crossed out is considered the voter’s choice.

For the PRH bond, Proposition 1, any ballots where the Proposition 1 section is left blank, or if both bubbles are filled in, is not considered a valid vote for or against the bond.

Additionally, some ballots have come in with signatures that Jamison’s staff cannot verify.

When ballots run through the scanner, it takes a photo of the voter’s signature and displays it on a screen. Jamison said they check if the photo matches the signature the county has on file for that person. This is a safeguard against possible voter fraud, she said.

If it does not match, that ballot is put aside and the voter is contacted. Jamison said the voter will be sent another envelope that they can sign and turn in with a new signature.

She said they the county could receive these new envelopes until the final certification date Nov. 26.

“I don’t know how many of those will be returned,” she said.

The rest of the ballots still to be counted are those from voters who live in another county.

Jamison has only served as auditor for less than a year, but she spoke to one of her staff members who said it is normal for the ballot-counting process to take this long.

Proposition 1 is receiving 59.66 percent approval from voters, but needs 60 percent to pass. A total of 4,202 ballots have been counted, which is above the minimum 3,745 it needs to be certified.

The bond, if passed, will fund a 45,000-square-foot facility expansion and a new electronic medical records system. The expansion would include space for a residency program.

The Whitman County Elections website indicates 10,001 ballots have been tallied countywide. The next count is scheduled for Monday.

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