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From the director

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Dear Friends,

It is hard to reflect on what a success 2020 has been for King County Elections without remembering and recognizing what a difficult year it was for so many of us. COVID19 devastated our families and communities and put healthcare workers to the test. A source of tremendous grief, the pandemic forced us into a new reality that felt insurmountable, even as we planned and prepared for this year’s election cycle.

In spite of a difficult year, we made it. Surrounded by adversity, our team stepped up and made sure we came through not only for voters, but for democracy. Whether we were piloting a new voting technology, installing loads of plexiglass, sorting through millions of ballots, answering voter inquiries, or soaking wet in the rain as we emptied and closed drop boxes, election workers gave it their all.

When I reflect on what is to come, I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have such supportive and engaged voters, stakeholders, partners and staff. This year challenged us in ways we could not imagine just a year ago, and yet, in the name of democracy, we never gave up. I now see a light at the end of the tunnel, along with a newfound confidence in our ability to overcome whatever comes our way. I look forward to the new year, as we continue to put in the work and evolve with the needs of the electorate so that every single voice is heard.

Sincerely,

Signature for Director of Elections Julie Wise

Julie Wise
Director of Elections

Mobile phone

Vote by Mobile Device

Exploring the Future

In February we partnered with the King Conservation District (KCD), a natural resources assistance agency, to support the organization’s Board of Supervisors election. This election has historically low turnout and is governed by a unique set of rules, presenting us with a viable opportunity to run a low-impact pilot program that permitted registered voters to vote from their mobile devices. Working with vendor Democracy Live and King County Elections, KCD developed a mobile platform through which voters could vote, sign and submit their ballot using their computer or mobile device. While King County Elections has no intention to move regular elections to mobile voting, this experiment gave us valuable insights into what could be possible in the future.

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Election worker opening ballots while wearing mask

Elections during a Global Pandemic

Prioritizing Public Health and Safety

To say this year was challenging for everyone is an understatement. In March, as much of the country shut down, we had to find a way to protect our election workers and fulfill the democratic duty we have to King County voters. After consulting with the county’s Facilities Management Division and private contractors, we restructured our entire building, spreading out worker stations and installing plexiglass and barriers; increased custodial details and upgraded HVAC systems; required temperature checks and masks; and placed PPE stations (gloves, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, etc.) throughout the building. During the General Election, we installed a tent to serve as a vote center outside our headquarters where we could have increased air flow and similar COVID19 precautions in place while still serving voters. We also planned for larger vote centers to allow for social distancing and COVID19 protocol compliance, including a curbside model at some of our sites and office for the Primary Election. All of these precautions and consultations helped us to be the first in the county to re-initiate in-person activities.

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Media interviewing Director Julie Wise

Presidential Primary

Increased Interest from Voters and Media

In spite of the pandemic, we managed to pull off the Presidential Primary in March with record-breaking turnout at 56%. This was also the first time in the last four-years that voters needed to declare a party preference to participate, per state law, which meant there were extra steps to process ballots and lots of extra customer service calls from voters.

We even saw an increase in interest from national news media, welcoming in outlets like CNN, MSNBC and The Guardian into our facility. By having national, state and local news media coverage, we continue to provide transparency for our voters and serve as a model for other counties around the country transitioning to a vote-by-mail system.

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Voter returning ballot at vote center

Record Turnout

A Testament to Vote-by-Mail

This year voters were more engaged and involved than ever before. At the beginning of the year we had around 1.3 million voters registered. By November, we had registered over 130,000 additional voters for a grand total of 1.4 million registered. Registration efforts and an engaged public translated into high turnout, exceeding expectations and breaking previous records. Vote-by-mail made this possible, giving voters easy access to the ballot from the safety of their homes without long waits in line or hurdles due to the pandemic. Take a look at how turnout this year compared to 2016:

Turnout: 2020 vs 2016
Election Turnout 2020 Turnout 2016
Presidential Primary 56% 33%
August Primary 56% 37%
November General 87% 82%

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Ribbon cutting ceremony for new ballot drop box at Black Diamond Library

Expanding Ballot Drop Boxes

Prioritizing Accessibility

We have made it our mission to make voting easy and accessible. Back in 2016, we only had 10 ballot drop boxes. As of 2020 we have 73 drop boxes and over 96% of King County residents live within three miles of a drop box location. None of this would be possible without key partnerships like the one we have with King County Public Library System, with whom we have installed drop boxes at 21 out of 49 library locations. For the November general election, a little over 74% of voters chose to return their ballots by drop box, making it the most popular return method.

Drop boxes installed this year:

  • Black Diamond Library
  • Carnation Library
  • Powell Avenue, across from KCE headquarters
  • South Seattle College

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Congressional Committee Testimony and Public Outreach

Fighting Misinformation, Engaging with Voters

Fighting misinformation was a big hurdle for election administrators. Conspiracy theories and unreliable sources were found throughout the internet and public forums. This is why we made a concerted effort to combat misinformation on a national and local level.

In August Director Julie Wise testified before the Congressional Committee on House Administration for a hearing entitled, “Voting Safely in a Pandemic.” Serving as an ambassador for vote-by-mail, Director Wise provided expert testimony, emphasizing the measures in place to carry out safe, secure elections.

Throughout the year, and especially leading up to the General Election, Director Wise attended myriad virtual speaking engagements and presentations to help get out the vote, assuage any anxiety voters had and provide a trustworthy source for information. From student organizations to legislators and organizers at townhalls and local events, we made a coordinated effort to show up, answer voters’ questions and convey accurate information to the general public.

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ESJ Town Hall on Systemic Racism and Oppression

Holding Space, Listening and Educating

At King County Elections our mission is to fulfill the will of the people. We go through great lengths to give every eligible voter a private ballot and chance to have their voice heard. This means it is our responsibility to confront institutionalized racism that oppresses and harms BIPOC communities to this day.

One issue we encountered this year was our approach to security at ballot drop boxes and vote centers, and how to balance the safety of our staff with the potential impact that employing local police officers (as the department has sometimes done for large elections) could have on BIPOC communities. In addition to talking with our community partners, we held a Department Town Hall to better understand the perspectives of our staff as both front-line workers and members of diverse communities. In doing so, we listened to those most affected by police brutality to create a safe, non-militarized and non-police security presence at drop boxes and vote centers during the general election.

Our work is not done. We’ll continue to collaborate with our staff and community leaders to identify ways we can build a safe and inclusive environment and representative democracy.

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Organizers getting out the vote

Voter Education Fund

Grassroots, Community Outreach

For the fifth consecutive year we collaborated with our community partners to get out the vote through our Voter Education Fund (VEF). A government, philanthropic and community partnership led by King County Elections and Seattle Foundation, VEF’s mission is to remove barriers among historically excluded communities. This last cycle (2019-2020) nearly $1 million was invested across 39 grantee organizations. The program shows how private and public partnerships can be leveraged to fund local organizations who know their communities best but may not have the funds for outreach.

While none of this was easy and direct outreach was made nearly impossible by the pandemic, the ties grantee organizations already had within their communities were key in overcoming these obstacles. Organizations got creative in how they worked to get the vote out through virtual candidate forums, Facebook live conversations, mobile outdoor printing stations to reprint ballots and handing out voting materials in food delivery and assistance bags. King County Elections also worked with grantee partners to provide social media toolkits, infographics, technical assistance and trusted information to support the grassroots efforts in place.

In 2020 alone the Voter Education Fund has impacted hundreds of thousands of voters. Here are some of the numbers that reflect this.

2020 Voter Education Fund: By the Numbers
Events + Activities Held 2,465
Voters Reached 663,168
Voters Registered 2,351

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Voter registering and getting ballot at vote center

Vote Centers and Voter Services

In-person and Virtual Support for Voters

As a result of the new same-day voter registration law, King County Elections opened new vote center locations for the first time in 2019. For this year’s Presidential Election we planned and hosted a total of seven vote centers in Seattle, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kenmore, Kent and Renton. Partnerships with Century Link Field Event Center, UW Dempsey Indoor Center, Federal Way Performing Arts, ShoWare Center and Bellevue College, allowed us to build safe, spacious centers where we registered voters, provided replacement ballots and in-person support for voters with disabilities. In total, over 14,000 voters were served and 5,862 voters were registered in-person.

Our Voter Services team also worked tirelessly to support voters with any question they had by email and a first-time virtual phone bank. We answered over 42,000 calls and emails to help voters with an array of issues—from registration to address changes to finding voters’ drop box locations—this team was an encyclopedia!

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Health Ambassadors Program

Strength in Partnerships

During the Presidential Election, we partnered with the county’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) Health Ambassadors in the COVID-19 Emergency Services Group. Formed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and preserve hospital capacity, the Health Ambassadors program allowed us to dispatch ambassadors to drop box locations and vote centers. With election staff, ambassadors supported us with managing lines, encouraging social distancing, passing out masks and hand sanitizers, as well as providing health tips.

Our Voter Services team also worked tirelessly to support voters with any question they had by email and a first-time virtual phone bank. We answered over 42,000 calls and emails to help voters with an array of issues—from registration to address changes to finding voters’ drop box locations—this team was an encyclopedia!

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Election staff placing ballots in mail tray

Presidential Election Staffing

Overcoming Obstacles for a Successful Election

The Presidential Election was one of the most fulfilling and successful elections for the department. Pulling this off required months of meticulous planning and coordination.

None of this would be possible without the impressive staff at King County Elections. In the middle of a pandemic, our administrative team hosted two virtual hiring and interview events in August and September, hiring 400 temporary staff. In total, there were over 700 temporary and permanent essential workers. Roles ranged from planning logistics to emptying drop boxes, processing ballots, answering thousands of calls and emails, keeping our facilities clean, and engaging with our stakeholders. Our team worked around the clock, undeterred, to deliver an outstanding election.

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Voter returning ballot at ballot drop box

Presidential Election Turnout Highlights

Beating the Odds

The numbers from the Presidential Election reflect not just the hard work of elections administrators, but also of an engaged electorate who showed up. With 87% record turnout, our voters showed tremendous enthusiasm for the electoral process. In fact, within the first five days of the return period, we had over 250,000 ballots already returned. In 2016 voters only returned around 10,000 ballots within that same period. Early turnout gave us the opportunity to post record results from over a million ballots on election night alone, which is pretty significant considering the previous record of 660,000 ballots processed on election night in 2018. Additionally, most voters—74% to be exact—returned their ballot to one of our 73 drop boxes. Around 25% returned their ballots by mail and 1% by email/fax. Ballots that were rejected for signature issues or returned too late made up only 0.91% of total ballots. What’s more, this year was the first time we had same-day voter registration. By November 3, we had 1,420,898 active registered voters.

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TTY: Relay 711

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