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Ballot Boxes And Voter Turnout: King County Elections Under Scrutiny

A ballot drop box in Seattle
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
A ballot box in Seattle. King County has 10 ballot boxes, a fact highlighted by a candidate for elections chief.

Julie Wise, deputy director of King County’s elections department, is a self-proclaimed elections geek. She’s worked in the office for 15 years.

Wise: “Anywhere from doing voter registration, taking phone calls, opening ballots, and when we had polling places, I did poll worker training.”

Wise is running to be the director of the department. Sherril Huff, the long-time elections director, is retiring. It’s the second time the position is on the ballot; the first time was in 2011.

Wise’s opponent Zack Hudgins is a Democratic state representative who used to work at Microsoft and Amazon. He’s not impressed with election results.

Hudgins: “Voter turnout was 22 percent in the last election, and I think 22 percent is terrible. And on top of all of that, 32,000 ballots that were sent back to the office for counting weren’t counted. People are taking the time to vote their ballot, and it's getting rejected. I think that there's a process issue there.”

Wise has an explanation for both problems. She says voter turnout was low in the county's primary, but was on par with the statewide turnout rate. As for votes being rejected, she says people either mailed them too late, or their signature was different than on previous ballots.

Wise: “We work really hard to try to get those signature issues cured. But we have more outreach to do, to get voters with an updated signature on file and to also communicate there’s a deadline to voting.”

Both candidates have the same goal: Increase voter turnout. Hudgins says more ballot drop boxes will help. King County has 10.

Hudgins: “Two million people, 10 ballot boxes. Pierce County has got three times as many for half the population."

Hudgins also supports same-day voter registration, which Wise says she wouldn’t support right away. But Wise does agree the county could use more ballot boxes.

Wise: “We need to really look at engagement. If that’s having a pre-paid envelope to return your ballot in. … Working with youth, elders, limited English speaking communities, Republicans, Democrats, everyone.”

Wise is a certified Washington state and national election administrator.

Hudgins says he’s qualified in part because he volunteered in 2004 to help with Iraq's first free elections.

He has criticized Wise by saying she misled voters by listing Harvard and University of Washington as her education. Wise later clarified that she completed leadership programs – not degrees – at the universities.