Election Security & Integrity FAQ

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Elections you can trust

If you are registered to vote in Washington, there is no need to request a ballot. Confirm your registration at VoteWA.gov.

All counties conduct vote-by-mail elections.

All vote-by-mail ballots (also known as absentee) are kept in secure storage while not being processed. Processing includes the verification of signatures and postmarks, removing the inner envelope from the outer envelope and removing the ballot from the inner envelope. Ballots are secured with numbered seals and a log is kept of the seal numbers to detect any inappropriate access. Votes cast are tabulated after 8 p.m. PST on Election Day. Results are neither known nor reported before 8 p.m.

Can I verify that my ballot was received by the election center?

Check ballot status at VoteWA.Gov. Please allow 3 – 5 days between mailing and having your ballot status updated.

Are there witnesses at ballot counting to ensure there is no bias? 

Visitors may come to the election center to view the process from the observation corridor. During COVID restrictions, visitors are required to wear a mask and the number of visitors may be limited.

Our work is monitored on site by observers appointed by the Republican and Democratic parties. The League of Women Voters also has on-site observers representing the interests of unaffiliated voters.

We protect voter privacy by separating any identifying information from the ballot. First, the outer mailing envelope, which displays name and address and voter ID, is opened and separated from the security sleeve and the enclosed ballot. The outer mailing envelopes are set aside. Next, the ballots are removed from the security sleeves.

How does the elections department process my ballot securely? 

After you return your voted ballot:

  • Your signature on the outer return envelope is checked against the signature on file in your voter registration record.
  • You are credited for voting. This ensures that only one ballot from each voter is counted.
  • The outer return envelope, which identifies you, is separated from the inner security sleeve, which contains your voted ballot. Your ballot cannot be traced back to you.

Why do vote totals change and races “flip” in the days following the election? 

When only 50% of the votes are included in the Nov 3 results release, it is likely races may change in the following days, as the remaining ballots are received and processed. Races could widen or narrow or flip. This is normal and well within ranges of statistical probability.

The Rossi v. Gregoire election of 2004 has made me very skeptical. 
More than 500 election laws have changed since 2004.
  • ID must be confirmed prior to vote being counted.
  • Ballot tallying equipment is certified by an independent testing lab approved by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission before it can be used in Washington State.
  • County auditors must contact voters if their ballot signature does not match the voter’s registration signature.
  • The Secretary of State identifies and removes voters who are currently under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
  • County Auditors must account for every ballot received. This reconciliation must be presented to the county canvassing board when the election is certified and made available to the public. If there is a discrepancy, the county auditor must provide an explanation.
  • State Patrol signature verification training is required by election staff comparing ballot signatures.
  • In person disability access voting must be available 18 days before an election.
  • A random check of ballot tabulation equipment is performed upon mutual agreement of the political party observers or at the discretion of the county auditor. A manual count is compared to the tabulated results to verify the accuracy of the equipment.
  • County election procedures are reviewed by the Secretary of State. The auditor or county canvassing board must take corrective action for any problems uncovered during the review. The Secretary of State must verify that corrective action was taken.
How do we know that tabulating computers haven’t been hacked?

Tabulation equipment is certified by the Washington Secretary of State and the federal Election Assistance Commission. It is tested for resilience and accuracy by independent approved test laboratories. Before each election, a public Logic and Accuracy test is conducted to ensure that voting equipment is ready for use and properly prepared to tabulate results. During the Logic and Accuracy test, hash codes and software versions are verified by independent observers and the Office of the Secretary of State.

We also conduct post-election audits prior to the certification of the election. Observers appointed by political parties select races of interest and then select batches at random. The audit compares the vote totals from the tabulation system to a hand count of physical ballots.

Can I trust Ballot Drop Boxes? Is my ballot protected? 

Drop boxes are a secure, convenient way for voters to return their ballot. There are a total of 46 drop box locations in Pierce County. 95% of voters reside within a 2 mile radius of a drop box.

Drop boxes are open 24 hours a day for the entire 18 day voting period. Ballots are collected at least every 48 hours and often several times per day. They are securely locked and closed with tamper-evident seals.

2 employees who have been subjected to background checks must be present at all times for ballot collection. Drop box collection teams are actively supervised by election managers using GPS tracking and photographic evidence.

Ballots are transported directly to the election center in sealed containers.

Your ballot is guaranteed on-time as long as the ballot is deposited before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Is our election system secure from cyberattack?

The Washington State elections system has a layered defense to protect against both unintentional error and malicious actors seeking to interfere with election results. Security has many elements including physical and cybersecurity processes.

Paper ballots distributed, controlled, tallied and secured at the county level provide a hard-copy backup of all election results. This hard-copy paper trail makes tampering with votes “at the ballot box” very difficult.

The county computer tabulation system is located in a locked room with access limited to a few credentialed election administrators. The tabulation system is never connected to the internet and can’t be penetrated by Wi-Fi or cellular devices.

Tallied results are reported and displayed on the Secretary of State’s VoteWA election management system The Washington State Military Department (WMD) monitors the uncertified election results transmitted from the counties to the State elections system to protect the integrity of this data against loss or corruption during transit. Once the data is accumulated, the WMD provides additional protection for the site displaying the election results.

Washington’s voter registration and election management system – VoteWA - is maintained and protected by Washington State’s Office of the Secretary of State (OSOS). The office has a robust Security Operations Center (SOC), which addresses cyber vulnerabilities with a team of cyber experts solely dedicated to the health of the state’s election systems. The SOC regularly reviews state and county voting equipment and computer systems for security vulnerabilities. The team is also tasked with ensuring county equipment meet current standards.

The Office of the Secretary of State has sensors to monitor threat activity on state and county systems. All 39 counties have “Albert sensors” installed. Security Information and Event Management Software (SIEM) allows the SOC to detect attempted unauthorized access into state and county networks.

In addition to monitoring for possible threats and intrusions, the SOC maintains technology replacement schedule to prevent vulnerable and end-of-life products from being used. The SOC also ensures state and county systems are patched with current releases.

The Office of the Secretary of State (OSOS) has significant firewalls to protect VoteWA from outside threats. In addition, OSOS ensures all access to centralized elections systems requires multi-factor authentication.

National Guard cyber experts working to protect Washington state’s election security.

Are voter registration records accurate?

Washington’s voter registration system (VoteWA) is continuously updated by county election workers as well as the Office of the Secretary of State. The Office of the Secretary of State works with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Licensing, the Department of Health, the Department of Corrections, and the Office of the Administrator of the Courts to improve the accuracy of voter registration data.

The Secretary of State’s Office regularly provides counties with lists of voters who need to be removed from the voter rolls. These lists include deceased voters, voters in custody of the Department of Corrections, or voters who may be registered in more than one county.

Additionally, Washington State is a member of ERIC (Electronic Records Information Center) that compares voter registration and motor vehicle license data across 30 other states. ERIC uses sophisticated data matching software. ERIC reports can detect when a voter is registered in another state.

With all that said, we still rely on voters to keep their voter registration records updated. If you move or change your name, please contact (253) 798-VOTE (8683).

If a member of your household has died and a ballot is mailed to them, please mark the ballot as undeliverable and write, “deceased” on the envelope. If a ballot is mailed to your home in the name of someone who doesn’t’ reside with you, please mark the ballot as undeliverable.

Can the election be rigged? 

Washington State uses paper ballots For the Nov 3 election in Pierce County, there are 555 precincts and 47 Ballot styles. Any attempt to replicate or submit ballots would require a criminal to know the exact ballot type associated with each voter, the ability to forge individual signatures, and the ability to predict that the targeted registered voter wouldn’t cast a bone fide ballot.

Elections are managed by nonpartisan, professional, certified election officials. Audits, independent observation, and segregation of duties would not allow “rigging” to go undetected.

While ballots are being handled, work is monitored on site by observers appointed by the Republican and Democratic parties. The League of Women Voters also has on-site observers representing the interests of unaffiliated voters.

The Logic and Accuracy test, post-election audit, and any required recounts all verify the accuracy and integrity of our tabulation system.

A report from the University of California Los Angeles and the University of New Mexico found that vote by mail does not increase voter fraud.

There are very low rates of fraud in Vote by Mail states, as summarized by the Brookings Institute.

What about people who just moved to Washington State and don’t yet have a WA Driver’s License? 

These prospective voters will use a paper registration form or appear in person at our office. Paper forms must be received by Oct 26. Print a registration now.

In person registration can take place up until 8 p.m. on Nov 3. Please call Pierce County Elections 253-798-VOTE (8683).

I registered to vote, but I hear that ballots have already been mailed. 

We will mail you a ballot to your current address with instructions on what to do. Vote the ballot we send. During the final week of the election, when delivery and return times are slim, we advise voters to print their own ballot via www.VoteWA.gov and return their voted ballot via ballot drop box.

Please call us at (253) 798-VOTE (8683).

Why did I receive two ballots?

You may receive an updated ballot because your residential address or name changed after the initial ballot mailing. Sometimes this happens when you interact with the Department of Licensing for drivers’ licensing services or if you have moved to a new address.

If you receive two ballots, please open both packets. One should have an insert indicating that it is “Replacement/Reissued Ballot.” Please vote and return the replacement ballot. It has the correct races and precinct information for your new address.

If you make a mistake and vote the initial ballot, the elections office will simply hold it and ensure that you don’t submit the replacement. If the replacement isn’t received, your initial ballot will be counted.

My voter registration status is listed as “Inactive.”

Typically, voters are placed on inactive status when mail is returned undeliverable or we are notified that the voter has moved out of the county.

Typically, voters are placed on inactive status when mail is returned undeliverable or we are notified that the voter has moved out of the county.

In Washington State, voters can change from “Inactive” to “Active” by simply contacting their county.

I left Washington State and will be voting in our new home state. How can I make sure my Washington State ballot is not mailed out or misused?

Please contact us at (253) 798-VOTE (8683). We will help you cancel your Washington State voter registration. Thank you for keeping your voter registration updated.

Is my voter registration coded by political party? I remember that I once had to state my party preference on the outside envelope. I worry about discrimination and privacy.

Voters don’t choose a political party when they register to vote in Washington State. Party preference is not recorded in the voter’s registration record. Ballots sent to voters are not coded by party. Voters are free to select any candidate during regular and special elections, regardless of party preference.

Presidential Primary. Every four years, the major political parties have a nominating process for US President. The parties can choose to nominate by caucus or hold an election with ballots. When the parties nominate by election, counties are required to mail and process ballots by political affiliation. This is the only election in which Washington's voters are required to mark and sign party declarations written by the major political parties. The party choice does not affect how voters make choices in Washington’s other regular elections. The Office of the Secretary of State is required to deliver election results to each major political party, including the party choice of participating voters. Once the election results have been transmitted, the voter’s party choice is removed from the voter’s file.

Should I use a ballot drop box?

Election officials and the USPS recommend that voters use a ballot drop box during the final week of the election. Drop boxes are open 24 hours a day, beginning Oct 15. They close promptly at 8 p.m. on Nov 2. Don’t wait! Deposit your ballot as soon as possible. Find the closest Ballot Drop Box here.

Drop boxes are a very safe option for voting. They are emptied at least every 48 hours during the 18 day voting window. Our employees are nonpartisan professionals who have passed a background check, always work in teams of two, and are GPS-tracked by supervisors. They always wear identification. You can ensure your ballot was received by logging into VoteWA.gov. Please allow three days for us to transport and upload your ballot into the election management system.

Is it safe to mail my ballot using the USPS postal service? 

Yes. If you’re an early voter, you should feel confident to return your ballot by mail. Postal carriers are reliable, unbiased professionals who handle ballots with the upmost integrity. Your ballot is treated as 1st Class mail. It’s postage-paid. No need to apply a stamp.

If you’re a late voter and plan to vote in the final week before Nov. 3, we recommend that you use a ballot drop box. Find the closest Ballot Drop Box here.

 I want to hand my ballot directly to an election worker.

Thanks for trusting us. Ballot drop boxes bypass the USPS mail. You can deliver your ballot directly to election workers via a ballot drop box. We have 46 ballot drop box locations in Pierce County. Chances are good that one is within two miles of your home! Ballot drop boxes are monitored and collected by professional nonpartisan election workers with tight oversight.

We strongly request that you NOT travel to the election center. COVID 19 conditions require significant social distancing and have placed a significant strain on the election center. If you do travel to the election center, you will be asked to remain in your car.

Did you know that you can confirm that your ballot has been received by Pierce County Elections? You can ensure your ballot was received by logging into VoteWA.govPlease allow three days for us to transport and upload your ballot into the election management system.

We offer in-person assistance, but Washington State no longer has polling places.

Vote the paper ballot that is mailed to you, which should arrive between October 17-21. You may hand-deliver your ballot at an official ballot drop box. Pierce County has 46 locations.

Washington State became a “vote from home” state in 2011. Counties no longer have voting machines on which you cast your vote. Anyone who comes to the election center to vote “in person” will simply be handed another copy of the same ballot previously mailed. Please vote the ballot that was mailed to you.

Only travel to the election center if you need to register to vote or you don’t have a ballot. Even then, we would like you to call first at (253) 798-8683 (VOTE), because we may be able to help you online or by phone.

I’ve received ballots for another person. How does that happen? 

We rely on voters to keep their registration records up to date. A previous occupant or family member may have failed to tell us that they’ve moved. Until we know that a ballot is undeliverable, we continue to send ballots to the address on file. Please mark the ballot as undeliverable and return via the USPS marked, “No such person at this address” or “Please forward to XYZ.”

I’ve told you 100 times that my child / spouse has moved out. Why do you keep sending these ballots to my home?

We rely on voters to keep their registration records up to date. Unless they are deceased, it’s the voter that needs to cancel their voter registration or update their new address. Election officials must hear directly from the voter in order to change the record.

Do people have to prove U.S. Citizenship when they register to vote? 

To register to vote in Washington state, people must provide some form of identification — most commonly their Washington state driver’s license or ID, or the last four digits of their Social Security number —and attest in a signed statement that they are a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote. A person who submits false citizenship on their voter registration application or votes as a noncitizen is guilty of a class C felony. This is clearly stated on all registration forms, and on every ballot envelope. Voters confirm their eligibility to vote in every election by signing the ballot declaration. If a person illegally registers and votes, they also jeopardize attaining citizenship in the future.

Per state law, election officials may not verify citizenship when they receive a voter’s registration, and there exists no official list of citizens to check citizenship status against. If the required information for voter registration is included – name; address; date of birth; a signature attesting to the truth of the information provided on the application; and an indication in the box confirming the individual is a U.S. citizen –the person must be added to the voter registration file. Modifying state law would require an act of the state legislature, and federal law an act of Congress. The Secretary of State does not have lawmaking authority.

While state law does not provide for citizenship verification upon registration, it does allow a local challenge of a voter registration, which can be brought by any person or the county prosecutor. The burden of proof lies with the challenger, and evidence must be presented to the county canvassing board for review. Learn more about the challenge process here. (RCW 29A.08.810 through 29A.08.850.)

Additionally, the Washington State Department of Licensing has implemented federally compliant REAL ID for enhanced driver’s licenses and identicards. People applying for an enhanced license must present citizenship verification. This type of license will soon be required in order to travel by air, and will provide election administrators an additional assurance to verify citizenship for registered voters.

We also work with the Electronic Registration Information Center to cross-reference voting history data in multiple states to identify instances of potential improper voting. Any instances are referred to local sheriffs and prosecutors. 

Are Felons Allowed to Vote?

If you were convicted of a felony in a Washington State court, your right to vote is restored automatically once you are no longer under the authority of DOC (in prison or on community custody). If you have questions about your status with DOC, call at (800) 430-9674.

If you were convicted of a felony in another state or in federal court, your right to vote is restored automatically as long as you are not currently incarcerated for that felony.

You do not lose the right to vote for a misdemeanor conviction or a conviction in juvenile court.

You do not need a certificate of discharge (COD) to have your voting rights restored.

You are not required to completely pay off your fines, restitution, or other legal financial obligations (LFOs) before you register to vote. However, your voting rights can be revoked if the sentencing court determines that you have failed to comply with the terms of your legal financial obligations.

We match Department of Correction records to voter registration records. Convicted felons who are under the control of the Department of Corrections are pended and given written notice before their voter registration is cancelled.

It is a felony crime for a convicted felon under DOC control to attempt to vote. It is punishable by five years of imprisonment and / or $10,000 fine.

Deceased Voters

Each month, the Office of the Secretary of State receives a list of deceased people from the Department of Health, as well as the Social Security Administration. These lists are compared to the voter registration list and potential matches are flagged for research by the County Auditors’ offices. Voter registrations of deceased persons are usually canceled within a month. County Auditors may also remove registrations of deceased persons using published obituaries or written notices from relatives.

If you’ve received a ballot for a deceased member of your household, please return the ballot, marked “deceased.” Or, give us a call at (253) 798-VOTE (8683). We are truly sorry for your loss.

We received voter pamphlets, but no ballots.

Voter pamphlets are mailed about three weeks prior to the election. Ballots are mailed about two weeks prior to the election. They are mailed separately.

Theses mailings are not related. Voter pamphlets are mailed to all households in Pierce County, regardless of voter registration. However, ballots are only mailed to registered voters at specific addresses.

For the Nov 3 election, there are TWO voters’ pamphlets. A Washington State pamphlet containing statewide offices and measures, and a local voters’ pamphlet for local offices and measures. The state sends their pamphlet on October 1 and Pierce County sends its local voters’ pamphlet on October 8. Both pamphlets are available online at Pierce County Elections.org. Ballots will be mailed on October 16.

Call the election center to check your voter registration status or to report irregularities in mail delivery (253) 798-VOTE (8683).

How long will it take to get election results?

We have an 18-day election period. However, 50% of voters wait to vote until the last 48 hours. Therefore, when we release our first tally at 8:15 p.m. on Nov 3, it represents 50% or less of the total vote.

When a ballot arrives at the election center, the envelope is scanned (checked-in), the voter’s signature verified, and then the ballot is opened and tabulated. This process can take up to 12 hours.

Updated results are posted daily from Nov 3 through Nov 10. The bulk of ballots for this election will be received and counted by Nov 9 (E + 6 days).

Washington is a “postmark” state. Ballots are accepted as on time as long as they have a USPS cancellation date of Nov 3 or earlier. Ballots may arrive many days after the election, as delayed USPS delivery, transfers from other counties, or military ballots trickle in.

Washington gives voters time to cure their challenged ballots (typically lacking a signature on the outer envelope or missing information on their voter registration application). This is part of the reconciliation process.

Election results aren’t certified until November 24. Vote totals will change slightly between Nov 9 and Nov 24.

If I’m on vacation or have moved, will my ballot be forwarded? 

County election centers forward ballots. Pay close attention to dates. We recommend that you return your voted ballot by USPS mail no later than October 26. If you are still within Washington State, please deposit your ballot at the nearest ballot drop box.

If you know that you won’t be in town during the election, we can make special arrangements for your vote. Please call us at (253) 798-VOTE (8683) before you leave town.

Always update your voter registration. Visit www.VoteWA.gov

I keep getting unsolicited phone calls from campaigns. Why does your office give away my phone number?

A voter’s phone number and email address are protected information. We are not allowed to provide this data to outside parties. We only use this information to contact you when there is an issue with the signature on your affidavit envelope.