Frequently asked questions
Security and accountability
Vote by mail is a secure election system with safeguards at every step of the process. A paper trail provides the ability to check and verify votes cast for every race or ballot measure. Unlike jurisdictions with hundreds of polling locations and thousands of voting machines, in our vote-by-mail system every single ballot is processed and ultimately tabulated in about 400 square feet at King County Elections headquarters.
Yes. King County leads the nation in providing secure and inclusive elections. Visitors from across the country and the world regularly come to our facility to learn about our practices and processes. We continuously prepare for new threats and risks before they emerge.
The King County Elections building is designed with a specific focus on security and transparency. Our facility is equipped with more than 50 security cameras throughout the building that provide 24/7 monitoring.
The multiple layers of security include a protected floor where ballots are processed. This area requires key card access and biometric controls that check fingerprints and safeguard ballots and ballot processing. Seals for locked areas and ballot bins must be broken and documented by two people. All USB ports are sealed and locked with a customized key. The tabulation server that counts votes is in a room monitored by security cameras with biometric controlled access and tamper evident seals. An intrusion detection system also monitors the entire ballot processing floor when the building is unoccupied.
Ballots are carefully managed and documented at each step of the process. Ballots are always handled in teams of two when they are picked up from a drop box by one of our driver teams or when they arrive by USPS delivery. Processed ballots are stored in a secure cage that requires badge and biometric authorization to access. Once an election is complete, ballots are stored for up to 22 months.
Our tabulation system is on a closed, air-gapped network not connected to the internet and is not capable of wireless communication. Our Elections IT team and King County’s central IT team are constantly monitoring risks and preparing our systems for emerging threats. They test for vulnerabilities and closely monitor traffic. Our entire staff also is regularly trained on cyber security best practices.
King County is a member of the Elections Infrastructure Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) , which provides security best practices, threat and vulnerability monitoring and election security news alerts.
Our voting system is federal and state certified. It is tested at a federally-approved testing lab, which include security reviews as part of the overall testing efforts. Our equipment also certified at the state level where it is reviewed by the state’s voting systems certification board, comprised of technology experts, accessibility experts, and county election officials.
We provide continuous updates and maintenance to our voter registration system to ensure accurate and secure voter rolls. Washington State participates in ERIC (Electronic Records Information Center) that compares voter registration and motor vehicle license data across 24 other states using sophisticated data matching software. This ensures that the voter is only registered in one state.
The Secretary of State’s Office provides us with regular lists of voters who need to be removed from the voter rolls. They include voters who have passed away or voters who may be registered in more than one county. We also check the obituaries every day for voters who passed away.
Our ballot processing floor is open to the public whenever we are at work. You can watch live webcams or walk the 1/5 mile loop around the facility that provides complete transparency of every activity. We also regularly host observers from the two major political parties. Once trained, observers are able to watch every activity on the ballot processing floor.
The Citizen Election Oversight Committee also regularly observes election processes and meet monthly to make recommendations and to help ensure that the work of the elections department is transparent and meaningful to County residents.
Every ballot returned to and received by King County Elections is accounted for at several points during its processing journey. Elections staff reconcile and account for every single ballot in the building on a daily basis. This reconciling process allows us to know exactly where each ballot is in the process, track trends and patterns, and identify and troubleshoot any potential issues.
Each election is fully reconciled before certification and reconciliation reports are available online on each election’s results page. King County Elections has a long track record of complete reconciliation for each election without no discrepancies or unaccounted for ballots.
Audits and accountability
King County Elections conducts multiple audits during each election. A Logic and Accuracy test is conducted on our tabulation system before each election to ensure the accuracy of our vote counting equipment. In addition, we conduct a post-election batch audit. We choose at random around 5,000 ballots to hand count. We then compare the results of these hand counts to the results produced by our tabulation system to audit the accuracy of our system.
King County Elections has worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Washington State Auditor’s Cyber Security Team and the King County Auditor on recent audits. The Department is also regularly audited by the Secretary of State’s Office for compliance with state election laws and processes.