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Private website wrongly listed Washington ballots as rejected

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 29, 2020

A voter casts her ballot at the downtown Spokane Public Library.   (Libby Kamrowski)
A voter casts her ballot at the downtown Spokane Public Library.  (Libby Kamrowski)

OLYMPIA – A private website designed to give Washington voters information about the status of their ballots was incorrectly saying that many had been rejected.

County and state elections offices were flooded with calls from angry voters, some of whom wanted to know why their personal information was showing up online.

Fearing a disinformation effort, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said state and federal officials met with the owners of the website, votewashington.info, and discovered it was actually inadvertent misinformation.

Callers were confusing the website with the state’s own VoteWA.gov.

The website operators were using public information, but misinterpreting state data on the status of ballots that have been received in each county by not understanding the codes those offices use for ballots that are set aside for review.

“We were concerned when we saw the site,” Wyman said. “The public was very alarmed. Some asked, ‘Why is my personal information being shared online?’”

Voter information is public in Washington, and the secretary of state’s office lists a daily “ballot status report” for those received in all 39 counties.

The spreadsheet with that data has a column that notes whether a voter’s ballot has been received, accepted or rejected. But for those marked rejected, the next column notes why the ballot is being challenged.

Most ballots listed “rejected” in one column are listed in the next column as being under review, which means they are in “some sort of a holding pattern,” Wyman said. Usually it involves a missing signature or one that doesn’t match the signature on file, which are also options in that next column.

Elections officials must notify voters of signature problems, which can be corrected for up to nearly three weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Voters can find out if their ballots have been received, accepted or have a problem by going to VoteWA.gov and entering their name and birth date.

The private website also provides a running tally of the number of ballots turned in for the state and it’s 39 counties. That information is also available from the state, but at a different website, sos.wa.gov/elections/current-election-information.aspx.

The private website will remain up, with corrections and a clearer explanation that it is not an official state website, she said.

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