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King County to have plainclothes security officers protect ballot drop boxes

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 14, 2020

By Joseph O'Sullivan Seattle Times

To protect the integrity of the election in a fraught year, plainclothes security officers will keep an eye on King County ballot drop boxes, officials said, and the county will perform an extra audit of ballots to check for accuracy.

In a news conference Wednesday, King County Elections Director Julie Wise and King County Executive Dow Constantine expressed confidence in the voting system amid a global coronavirus pandemic, deepening political rifts and scattered civil unrest.

“But the folks here at elections are geared up and ready to go,” said Constantine, who touted several security features in Washington’s vote-by-mail system He added later: “Each one of us through our vote has our hand on the tiller of the ship of state.”

Regardless, they urged residents to vote early, as 1.4 million ballots get mailed across King County for an election that could see record-high turnout.

The news conference came as Washingtonians begin to cast votes for president, U.S. Congress, governor, attorney general, the state Legislature and a host of other races.

Turnout could even hit 90%, said King County Elections Director Julie Wise, which would eclipse the previous high of 85% in the 2012 general election.

If King County voters haven’t received their ballots by Oct. 19 (Monday), Wise said they should call elections officials at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

The news conference comes after President Donald Trump has for months disparaged mail ballots and sown doubt about the election results while he trails in the polls.

The president has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose, and has encouraged his supporters to watch voting places, which has raised fears about voter intimidation.

In Washington there is a law against electioneering within 25 feet of a drop box, said Wise.

Her department is working with the King County Sheriff’s Office and other county officials to share information during the election period. To make sure voters aren’t intimidated, plainclothes security keeping an eye on drop boxes.

“Those at drop boxes and vote centers will be private security specifically there to help de-escalate any situations that might arise, for example what we call very passionate voters,” wrote Kendall LeVan Hodson, Wise’s chief of staff, wrote in an email. “They will be at drop boxes across the county including Seattle.”

On election night, some law enforcement officers will be posted at “our highest traffic boxes specifically to help us with re-routing lights and traffic” to help handle any long lines of motorists, she added.

King County isn’t the only one pondering security. Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said sheriff’s deputies will be present on election night at the county’s ballot-processing center, at its temporary voting center, and also to accompany election workers who will pick up ballots from drop boxes.

“It’s just dealing with a very emotional voting public,” said Hall. Thurston County’s ballots went out late last week, and Hall said Wednesday that the number of ballots returned so far is outpacing 2016 at the comparable point in time.

In Snohomish County, ballots to about half a million registered voters are set to be mailed Thursday, according to Auditor Garth Fell.

If Snohomish County voters haven’t received their ballot by Oct. 21 (next Wednesday) they should call the elections office at 425-388-3444, he wrote, or visit to ask for a replacement ballot.

Trump administration changes to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) led to a slowdown in mail delivery this summer. But Wise and other local election officials, along with state Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, have expressed confidence in USPS delivery here.

Washington is one of a handful of states with a vote-by-mail statute. When voters return their ballots early, it allows election officials to process ballots, for instance, checking signatures to make sure they match with what is on record.

Wise expressed confidence in the county’s ability to take in, process and count ballots.

“Here in King County, we know that we are ready for anything this election is going to throw our way,” said Wise, adding later, “Our drop boxes are steel tanks.”

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