By Josh Magill
The Mountain New obtained more information from Pierce County Auditor, Julie Anderson, on Tuesday, Oct 23, regarding the announcement of misprinted ballots in two precincts of the 10th congressional district.
The new information specifies which two precincts are affected – 29-663 (Spanaway area) and 29-623 (South Tacoma area).
Anderson says that her office became aware of the problem at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, October 22, when a voter contacted them. Anderson also says the first priority was to the affected voters and the second priority was to the media and general public for transparency. She says her office is working with “interested parties,” including candidates, today to further explain the printing error and the corrective action. Also, this event will be thoroughly documented and reported in the Canvassing Board report.
The Auditor’s Office, in an effort to further educate and help voters, will make phone or email contact with as many of the affected voters as possible. Anderson stated that PCAO does not have telephone numbers and emails for all voters.
In an explanation of how the news of the misprint happened, Anderson says that between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Monday morning, the elections division verified that the affected voters were correctly districted in the Pierce County Voter Registration system. It was then determined that the ballots had been misprinted, with the wrong back.
Officials then immediately went to their archives and visually inspected all ballot types used in this election (521 ballot types) to determine the scope of the printing error, where it was determined the error was isolated to the two precincts.
The print vendor reviewed press logs to detect the potential scope of the problem. The vendor was able to determine that one single operator failed to switch back plates, twice on his shift.
At 10:40 a.m., via the election management system, Anderson suspended the misprinted ballot for each voter in these two precincts. At 7:50 p.m., the new ballot packets and a cover letter were mailed to each affected voter. Special arrangements were made with the U.S. Post Office for this same-day mailing.
Corrected ballots for 33 military voters will also be sent out today, as military voters receive a different envelope and it needs to be processed separately.
Anderson says five misprinted ballots have been received from the affected precincts. They were identified prior to opening and are being held. Those five voters have also received the corrected ballot with a cover letter.
The corrected ballots will be distinguishable from the outside because the elections division placed a color tag on the voter’s return envelope containing the corrected ballot. They also used a yellow highlighter and made a mark on the left-hand side next to the voter’s address information.
Additional tracking procedures will be used to differentiate the misprinted ballots from the corrected ballots.
Anderson states that each ballot packet issued to a voter contains a unique ID for the election, printed on the return envelope. The misprinted ballot has been suspended in the election management system so any misprinted ballots that are returned will be out-sorted by the election division’s mail sorter.
Corrected ballots were also issued a new unique ID. These ballots have been “challenged,” so they too will be out-sorted upon arrival. Additionally, the yellow stripe on the return envelope will be used to visually segregate these ballots.
All of these ballots will be held until after the election deadline, to allow for the return of all possible ballots. Then, these ballots will be processed in groups:
- If only one ballot is returned by voters, those ballots will be opened and visually scanned as normal. If the returned ballot is the corrected ballot, it will be counted as normal. If the returned ballot is the misprinted ballot, all items except the Congressional race will be counted.
- If both ballots are returned (misprinted and corrected), only the corrected ballot will be counted.
If a voter returns both ballots in one envelope, the envelope will go the Canvassing Board for resolution.
When asked if the PC Auditor’s Office will release the names of the voters who received the misprinted ballot to allow campaigns to help communicate with them, officials replied that every voter in these two precincts received a misprinted ballot and then received a corrected ballot. For campaign workers to identify the affected voters, simply request data for these precincts; however, as per State law, this data will not include phone numbers or email addresses.
However, the question still lingers of whether there is a way to track or detect the voters who do return the wrong ballot and if this data be made available.
The election division says that as ballots are received from these precincts, voter credit will be applied, but the challenge code will still appear. Like all data requests, this information will be displayed on the voter record, but will not help the data requestor determine which ballot the voter returned.
Anderson says because her office observes voter secrecy, they will not attribute a misprinted or corrected ballot to an individual voter. Also, because ballots are removed from envelopes, the identity the voter is not known. The Auditor’s Office and its elections division do not intend to divulge which voters have returned a color-tagged envelope to the election center.
© 2012 Josh Magill
Editor’s Note: In a separate email Mr. Magill says that voters in Frederickson have been affected by this balllot mishap in addition to those in Spanaway and Parkland, as previously identified by county officials.