Learn About Election Security
We work hard to make sure your vote is safe and secure before, during and after an election. Elections processes are fair and transparent. You can observe ballot processing and audits in person at the Pierce County Election Center in Tacoma.
Testing & Certification of Voting Systems
Counties choose their own voting systems, but they must be certified by an independent testing authority and the State of Washington. These tests include security reviews as a part of their overall testing efforts. Voting systems are on an air-gapped network. That means the network cannot connect to the internet and is incapable of wireless communication.
The Office of the Secretary of State reviews each county periodically to make sure all election laws and rules are being properly followed. After this performance audit the county receives a report of needed changes and a follow-up visit to make sure the corrections were made.
Certification of Election Administrators
Elections in Washington are run by Certified Election Administrators. To become certified, elections staff must attend a two-day Elections 101 class, get another 40 hours of work-related education, and pass an exam that tests their knowledge of election laws and procedures. They must also work in elections for two years to gain relevant experience before they are certified.
Pre-election Audit: Logic & Accuracy Test
Before every election, counties test their voting systems to make sure the machines are correctly set up and accurately counting votes. Election officials scan a stack of ballots with a known outcome to make sure the voting system reports the same answer.
Voter Registration Database (VRDB)
Washington’s statewide voter registration database is constantly maintained and updated as voters become registered, move, change their name, die, or are no longer eligible to vote. All active voters are automatically mailed ballots. Only one ballot per voter is accepted.
VRDB Information More information about the VRDB.
VRDB FAQ Answers to commonly asked questions about the VRDB.
In Washington we vote on paper ballots. That way we can view and confirm our choices before sealing and signing our ballots. Paper also allows our local elections officials to audit the results of an election after the votes are counted. Paper ballots can be audited and recounted as many times as necessary. They are a durable, tamper-evident hard copy of a voter’s choices.
You can check the status of your ballot in VoteWA, Washington’s statewide voter registration database. When your ballot arrives at the elections office, the barcode on the outer envelope is scanned. This updates your voter record in VoteWA and your ballot status now says “Received”. This system prevents anyone from casting more than one ballot.
When you vote, you sign an oath swearing your eligibility to vote. Your signature is compared to the signature in your voter registration file to confirm your identity and eligibility. If your signature is missing or doesn’t seem to match, your ballot is “challenged” and you are notified. You’ll then have an opportunity to update your signature on file to make sure your vote is counted.
Click here to learn more about challenged ballots.
Chain of Custody
Once your signature is verified, your ballot status will update to “Accepted”. Your ballot will then be opened and separated from the signature envelope. At this point your ballot is anonymous and grouped with other ballots to be scanned. Ballots are sealed in secure containers throughout the election and a minimum of two staff are present whenever your ballot is handled.
Scanning and Tabulation
Ballots are scanned throughout the 18-day voting period as they are processed and accepted. Tabulation—counting the votes on the ballots—begins after 8pm on Election Day. Since many ballots are already scanned, it only takes the computer a few seconds to total up the votes, which is why you start seeing preliminary election results so soon after 8pm. Throughout the election ballot scanners and voting systems are physically secured in locked rooms. Elections staff sign in and out each time the room is opened, and always in groups of two or more.
Post-election Random Batch Audit
Right after Election Day, your local election officials check to make sure the voting systems are counting correctly. They hand count randomly selected precincts or ballot batches and compare those numbers to the voting system totals.
Full Ballot Reconciliation
As ballots arrive, your local election officials keep detailed records of the steps taken to process each ballot or group of ballots. A final report at the end of the process includes a summary of how many ballots were received, along with the final outcome of how many ballots were counted, and how many ballots remained in a “challenged” status and were rejected by the county Canvassing Board. By comparing the numbers of ballots throughout the process, your local elections officials can demonstrate that every ballot received was handled properly, and that the number of ballots counted corresponds to the number of voters who participated in the election. In the process of tracking ballots and reporting the final outcome, election officials are creating an audit trail. These reports also assist state and county decision-makers better identify and understand trends in elections across multiple years.
Many people assume the election results they see on election night are the final results, when, in fact, the outcome is not official until the election is canvassed and certified several weeks after Election Day. The purpose of canvassing is to account for every ballot cast and ensure that every valid vote is included in the election totals. Click on the links below to learn more.
Introduction to County Canvassing Boards
Pierce County Canvassing Board Policies