It’s important work. And somebody has to oversee it.
Those were Neil Marsh’s thoughts Wednesday as he acted as the sole partisan observer during the “logic and accuracy test” hosted Wednesday by Lewis County Elections at the Lewis County Auditor’s Office.
The test focuses on the county’s computers and ballot tallying system before elections to make sure it’s accurately tabulating ballots and cumulative reports are coming out clean. The public test was conducted in preparation for the Aug. 3 election, and the machines passed — with flying colors — a faux 151-ballot tally using predetermined results.
Marsh, 68, a Democrat precinct committee officer from Chehalis, has witnessed the test many times over the years he’s been a politically-active citizen.
“I’m glad to say that, during the many years I’ve been doing this, I haven’t seen one instance of political shenanigans,” said Marsh, a retired U.S. Air Force veterans, as Elections Supervisor Terry Jouper and Chief Deputy Auditor Tom Stanton conducted the process. “There’s no political bias I can discern.”
What seems like a fairly routine and simple process has garnered newfound importance in an age of political division as some people developed a distrust of election systems this last November. The Lewis County Auditor’s Office has been transparent about the processes, and has always invited the public out to see how it’s done.
“It’s a way for us to test, before the election starts, that everything is working the way that it should. It’s our way of, like, pre-auditing the tabulation equipment. We also have a random batch audit after the election that does the same thing,” Jouper said.
Here’s how that process rolled out: Prior to the test, a “zero report” is run on the office’s processing computer, which is disconnected from the internet. The report is run to show elections staff that no ballots have been scanned and queued for processing during that election, Jouper said. They also run them before they process ballots for real elections.
It’s essentially making sure the tally counter is set to “zero.”
A ballot matrix, essentially a large spreadsheet with all the predetermined results formulated with state guidance, is printed and the department hand-fills those ballots with the corresponding election results.
Once those ballots are filled out, elections staff scan and process those 151 ballots into a system through a scanner in its elections center, which also isn’t connected to the internet. Lewis County uses a tabulation system called Clear Ballot, which is one of three approved by the states and is used by 16 other counties in Washington, Stanton said.
The department tabulates the results at the processing computer in its front office.
During the logic and accuracy test, election results are printed out and given to the observers and are read off to make sure they match up with the department’s matrix. The “zero report” is also shown in a similar fashion.
The results are then moved over to a USB flash drive and onto a computer with internet. During a real election, the staff would upload those results to the Secretary of State’s website for viewing, but the testing results are archived with the state.
After that, any observers and Auditor’s Office officials heading the test sign off on a document certifying the test.
Lewis County Elections will begin scanning and processing early ballots for the Aug. 3 election this Monday. Ballots began hitting mailboxes starting this last week.
Stanton said it’s expected to be a relatively low-turnout primary election because it's an off year with no presidential or congressional races on the ballot. He said they’re expecting around 40% of registered voters to turn out for this August election.
Sixty-seven of Lewis County’s roughly 100 precincts will be involved in the various city council, fire district and fire levy measures. Some Lewis County voters may not see any ballot this time around due to the small nature of this election.
“‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,’” Marsh said, quoting a poster in the Auditor’s Office.
More information on election processes and dispelled myths can be found online at Lewis County Elections’s office at www.elections.lewiscountywa.gov.