Better days ahead for casting, counting votes

By John Thurlow
The Pierce County elections office has been evaluating a new vote tabulation system The two ?nalist vendors each demonstrated their approach and systems to the Pierce County auditor on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Pierce and King County election officials have collaborated on the evaluation process but will make their own decisions on a ?nal choice. The eventual new system for Pierce County, covered by existing budgeted funding, will replace the current system implemented in 1992.
Voters will see two changes when a new system is implemented. (Editor's note: The county auditor has announced the system will first be used in the primary election this August):
• Instead of connecting arrows, voters will fill in an oval bubble next to the candidate's name. This simplification should reduce the number of voter marking errors that require manual adjudication to determine the voter's intent. To ensure transparency, the adjudication process with the current equipment is cumbersome and time-consuming, slowing down the eventual tallying.
• Noticeably speeded-up tallying of final or near-final results, due to much more automation of basic vote-tallying and advanced aids for transparent adjudication.
These modern systems, well-tested in various jurisdictions, have flexible tools covering most aspects of ballot preparation and processing. The benefits for voters and the public include processing ballots to the point of tallying as they come in, ahead of the polls closing (state law forbids counting before the polls close).
Ballots submitted near closing and arriving by postal mail after the close will be processed much more quickly than currently possible, providing for definitive results much earlier.
Disabled voters will have better tools available to cast their votes at voting centers.
The system will be standalone, not connected to agency networks or the Internet, so highly hacker-resistant. It will still be paper-based, maintaining an auditable record of the original ballot. The need for recounts should be reduced considerably in tight contests.
The League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County will partner with Pierce County elections to get the word out on the changes coming.

John Thurlow is a member of the board of directors for the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County. He wrote this article for the group's newsletter.


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