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How King County Elections verifies your signature (or smiley face)

Paige McGrath has been verifying voter signatures at King County Elections since 2010.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna
Paige McGrath has been verifying voter signatures at King County Elections since 2010.

Ever wonder what happens after you mail your ballot? If you live in King County, chances are, your ballot was inspected by someone like Paige McGrath. She and hundreds of elections employees process thousands of voter ballots during election season. 

The following interview has been condensed for brevity. 

My name is Paige McGrath, and I work in signature verification. We look at every single signature on every single ballot that comes in. We do not open the ballots.

The ballots come in either from a drop box or through the mail and they run through the sort machines. The sort machines upload the signatures so we can compare the signatures they have on file from registration to what they signed on the actual ballot. We never actually touch the ballots.

The kinds of things we look at are flow of the signature, the positioning of the letters, the strokes, pen strokes where they might lift their pen and reset it back down, the spacing of the letters within the signature. 

The ones that are approved get run through the sort machine again and put into trays and groups and sent over to the opening groups so they can actually open those ballots.

The signatures that need a second set of eyes on them go into a separate set of trays and another group looks at those ones a second time to make sure that we didn’t miss something, or want to double check, research, send out letters. They are very meticulous in research and making sure about what’s happening with those signatures.

In my six years, occasionally a voter will choose to use a picture for their signature, rather than a written signature. And if that’s the one we have on file, it’s not a problem, but sometimes their pictures change.

So maybe they signed with a smiley face one time and another time they decided to switch to stars. And in that case we go ahead and send that to the challenge group to have another look and perhaps get another signature on file so we can count that vote.

By the numbers:

One percent of ballots get challenged. King County Elections has already received about 300,000 ballots with a week to go until Election Day. During a federal election, your ballot is stored for 22 months.

Year started with KUOW: 1994