Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell talks about the new Elections Center during a tour on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell talks about the new Elections Center during a tour on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

New Everett elections center aims to provide transparency, security

For the first time, the 17,000-square-foot facility will bring all parts of the ballot counting process into one space.

EVERETT — As about 500,000 ballots are mailed to Snohomish County voters this month for the upcoming primary election, the Auditor’s Office will get to count them in a brand new space.

On Tuesday, the auditor’s office debuted a new $8.6 million, 17,000-square-foot elections center in downtown Everett just in time for this year’s elections.

Being a presidential election year, the county is bound to see higher voter turnout than recent off-year elections.

Inside one of the main rooms of the Elections Center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Inside one of the main rooms of the Elections Center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Before, election work mainly took place on the first floor and basement of the county administration building. Because of space limitations, election workers often sorted ballots and counted them in separate locations.

In high-turnout elections, the county would have to rent space near Paine Field to accommodate the extra work.

Two floors up from the original office, each part of the tabulation process is consolidated into one floor in the new space designed for “capacity, security and transparency,” County Auditor Garth Fell said.

An observation loop rounding the entire floor gives witnesses an inside look at the process. Long glass windows in each room ensure nothing is hidden.

“There is nothing more fundamental to democracy than safe, secure elections people have confidence in,” County Executive Dave Somers said Tuesday.

Along the loop, cameras and monitors line the walls, where observers can watch livestreams of every move election workers make, like verifying signatures on the ballot envelope.

Open ceilings in each room reveal the duct work and wires that power the building. Fell said even this was intentional to promote even more transparency throughout the building.

Onlookers can also see what wires and cords are attached to computers. Computers used to process ballots are not connected to the internet to ensure results aren’t compromised.

Test ballots are run through a sorting machine on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Test ballots are run through a sorting machine on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Incorporating both security and transparency is “a fine line to walk,” Somers said. But the new facility strikes a balance between the two, he said.

One room, with extra added security measures and large glass windows, will store ballots from previous elections. In the old facility, many of the archived ballots were stored in the basement, with little public visibility.

As election workers begin counting ballots, voters and residents can watch the process unfold. Fell encourages it.

“Our goal is to open this up to the public, and make sure that they understand their elections process,” he said.

In large part, the new space was paid for through federal grants and other money set aside for elections-related capital projects, Fell said.

For next month’s primary, Fell predicts a voter turnout of about 45%. For the general election in November, local turnout averages at more than 80%.

A wall diagram shows the “journey of the ballot” at the new Elections Center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A wall diagram shows the “journey of the ballot” at the new Elections Center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The center won’t be the only novelty this election year.

Once local voters’ pamphlets are mailed to residents across the county, a Spanish-language version will be available on the auditor’s website.

The Spanish pamphlets were made possible after the Snohomish County Council approved $30,000 for translation services.

More than 4,000 Snohomish County residents have limited English proficiency and might need language assistance when filling out a ballot.

Printed pamphlets or ballots in Spanish won’t be mailed to voters needing them, they will only be available at the Auditor’s Office or online.

Ballots for the primary election will be mailed July 18 and due August 6.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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