Island County familiar with chad quirks


Herald Writer

Chads, it seems, need a helping hand sometimes. At least in Island County, anyway.

With the nation’s attention transfixed on ballot recounts in Florida, lawyers, pundits, party strategists and just about everybody else have debated the degrees of separation needed for chads, those bits of cardboard knocked out when a ballot it punched.

A circuit judge in Palm Beach County said Wednesday that dimpled ballots — those with chads that have buckled but not broken free — could be considered in the manual recount of votes.

Island County also uses a punch-card ballot, but improperly punched ballots haven’t been a problem, Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said.

"I haven’t had anyone say I pushed at it and couldn’t get it out," she said.

Election workers also inspect the ballots before the cards are fed into a counting machine. And they will gently rub the ballots with a swipe of the hand to knock away any loose chads.

Just feeding the ballots into the counter with dangling or hanging chads can gum up the machine, Sinclair said.

Still, there is a standard on what sort of chads are good or bad.

"Our standard is at least two corners need to be broken in order to be a vote," Sinclair said.

But that doesn’t mean the dimpled chads are discarded.

Like other counties, a three-member canvassing board reviews questionable ballots and determines if they should be counted. If the voter’s intent can clearly be seen in the ballot, it’s counted.

In Island County, the canvassing board is made up of the auditor, the prosecuting attorney and a member of the board of commissioners.

But most of the board-reviewed ballots pose problems because of other reasons, such as late postmarks, Sinclair said. The canvassing board reviewed 101 ballots this election, out of 33,553 cast. A total of 42 had not been signed, while 43 had late postmarks.

No elections in Island County have ever hinged on a hanging chad, Sinclair said. And 16 of Washington’s 39 counties use punch cards.

"It’s up to each county to decide what type of system it wants to buy," said David Brine, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Island County uses a ballot card reader, which looks like a big, old electric typewriter. The county bought two of the machines last year; one serves as a backup. Altogether, both the ballot card readers, and the computer and software that compiles the votes, cost about $35,000.

A single optical-scan reader costs about $125,000, Sinclair said.

Even though much attention has been placed on problems with punch ballot machines, optical scanners aren’t perfect, either. Marks made too lightly, or too heavy, are sometimes misread by those machines, Sinclair said.

"My feeling is they both have advantages and disadvantages. For us, the remaining determinant was cost," she said.

The great debate over chads and recounts has heightened citizen understanding of the election process. But given Island County’s turnout — at 84 percent, one of the highest in the state — residents were already keenly interested in the election.

"This is the highest (turnout) they’ve ever had in Island County, even for a presidential election," Sinclair said. "I think it lends credibility to the election process. It makes people feel that there is a true reflection of the public will."

Most voters didn’t want to trek to the polls, though. More than half of the county’s registered voters asked for an absentee ballot, Sinclair said. And there was a jump of 5,000 new absentee voters in the time between the primary and general elections.

"There’s a lot of feeling about this election, so you had an emotional platform that brought people out," she said.

The seemingly never-ending election has had its benefits, however.

"It has generated a lot of interest in the voting process and the election process, and I think those are good things," Sinclair said.

"It’s taken a real emotional toll on the people who are closely involved, candidates and election staff, but the good news about it is that there’s nobody over the age of 7 in Island County who don’t realize that every vote counts, and that it’s important to participate."

Talk to us

More in Local News

Members of South County Fire practice onboarding and offboarding a hovering Huey helicopter during an interagency disaster response training exercise at Arlington Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. The crews learned about and practiced safe entry and exit protocols with crew from Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue before begin given a chance to do a live training. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish, King counties train together for region’s next disaster

Dozens of agencies worked with aviators Tuesday to coordinate a response to a simulated earthquake or tsunami.

Police stand along Linden Street next to orange cones marking pullet casings in a crime scene of a police involved shooting on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lake Stevens man identified in Everett manhunt, deadly police shooting

Travis Hammons, 34, was killed by officers following a search for an armed wanted man in a north Everett neighborhood.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lawsuit: Funko misled investors about Arizona move

A shareholder claims Funko’s decision to relocate its distribution center from Everett to Arizona was “disastrous.”

1 stabbed at apartment in Lynnwood

The man, 26, was taken to an Everett hospital with “serious injuries.”

A firefighting helicopter carries a bucket of water from a nearby river to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. Highway 2 near Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Red flag fire warning issued west of Cascades

There are “critical fire weather” conditions due to humidity and wind in the Cascades, according to the National Weather Service.

A house fire damaged two homes around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Fire burns 2 homes in Marysville, killing 2 dogs

Firefighters responded to a report of a fire north of Lakewood Crossing early Tuesday, finding two houses engulfed in flames.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace eyes one-time projects for $2.4M in federal funds

Staff recommended $750,000 for a new roof and HVAC at the library, $250,000 toward a nonprofit facility in Lynnwood and more.

The Snohomish River turns along the edge of the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To build a healthier Snohomish River, more log jams

About $2.8M in grants will help engineer log jams, tear down levees and promote salmon restoration at Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve.

Dave "Bronco" Erickson stands next to the pink-and-purple 1991 Subaru Justy hatchback “Pork Chop Express” car that he is seeking to re-home for $500. The car has been on Whidbey Island for years, mainly as yard art. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
For sale: Whidbey’s fabled ‘Pork Chop Express’ gets great smileage

Asking price is $500 for the 1991 Subaru Justy, a three-cylinder econobox with 65K miles and a transmission as rare as hen’s teeth.

Most Read