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Olympian: We have an election system we can trust. Don’t believe us? You can see for yourself.

By the Olympian editorial board

This editorial originally ran in the Olympian.

Last year, a group calling itself the Thurston Voter Research Project knocked on a lot of doors and questioned people about their voter registration. They described this effort as “ground-truthing the voter rolls.” They reportedly wore badges that said “Thurston County,” though they were not employed by or in any way associated with the county.

They thought they’d found some fraud when people said no one at their address matched the name on the voter rolls. But when the Thurston County Auditor’s office went through their entire list of questionable registrants and addresses, they found that many of the voters registered at those addresses were military voters who must use their last local address when they are away on active duty. Others were inactive voters or voters who had recently moved and updated their addresses.

Not a single incidence of fraud was found.

We wonder how many of the people who participated in the Voter Research Project survey teams were disappointed not to find any fraud, and how many were relieved. Those who were disappointed will undoubtedly remain suspicious of other aspects of our voting system – suspicions are unfounded.

The Olympian’s editorial board recently toured the Thurston County ballot processing center, but that was by no means an exclusive experience. The Auditor’s Office provides tours to any groups or individuals interested in learning more about election administration. The center also is open to observers, and ballot processing is streamed live online during an election.

At every stage of the process there are safeguards, security and transparency.

Perhaps the most important safeguard is that each and every voter signature is checked by people who are trained by the State Patrol to spot forgeries. A double row of signature checkers sit in front of computer screens for hours on end, comparing ballot signatures to the signatures on file. If a ballot signature doesn’t match the signature on file, the voter receives a letter asking them to fill out and sign a form and return it before an election is certified.

Those affected the most are young voters, who register at 17 or 18 then adopt different signatures as they become fully fledged adults.

The ballot processing center is a sight to behold. In a cavernous, warehouse-like building, dozens of election workers perform the precise, complex rituals that safeguard the foundation of our democracy. Nearly all of them are women, but former Lacey mayor Jon Halvorson helps provide some gender diversity in their ranks.

We have an election system worthy of trust and admiration.

Yet in spite of all that, the myth of widespread voting fraud spread and lingers like a bad smell in counties across our state. It doesn’t seem to matter that our vote-by-mail system is a national model for safety, convenience and integrity.

Nor does it seem to matter that ballot processing and counting machines are never connected to the internet and therefore not hackable by the Chinese, the Italians, or anyone else.

We wish we could dismiss all the election fraud allegations as irrelevant, tinfoil hat paranoia. But the national epidemic of voting process skepticism is a clear and present danger to our civic health, and to the safety of election officials.

There’s a dangerous progression from misinformation to threats of violence against county auditors and election staff. All over the country, threats against election officials peaked following My Pillow guy Mike Lindell’s widely debunked Cybersecurity Symposium last August.

In one Washington county, an election staffer quit because he felt so unsafe he had to keep reminding his children not to answer the doorbell.

So far, Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall has received one vague but frightening threat, but none of the Thurston County election staffers have quit. We salute them for their dedication and courage, and offer our gratitude for their work. These unsung heroes deserve a raise, and a banquet in their honor.

Democracy is a system built on faith – faith that people are capable of self-government, faith that self-government is the best guarantor of our freedom and dignity, and faith that, with constant vigilance, we can and will sustain it.

Sowing unwarranted distrust in election integrity undermines that faith, and is therefore an insidious form of treason.

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