Unlike Florida fiasco, few ballots in county tossed from vote tally


Herald Writer

After two weeks of counting, deciphering, scrutinizing and deliberating, the casualties of the Snohomish County election process came down to about 1,700 ballots.

That’s how many ballots election officials say didn’t pass muster out of the more than 255,000 cast in the Nov. 7 election.

In a year when the minutia of vote counting has dominated newspapers’ front pages for days, when the word "chad" has entered the common lexicon in reference to something other than a guy’s name, Snohomish County elections manager Scott Konopasek said vote counting here has been smooth and fairly uneventful.

Even the prospect of a recount in the Senate race between Republican incumbent Slade Gorton and Democrat Maria Cantwell has election officials unfazed. The recount will be triggered by the razor-thin margin of Cantwell’s unofficial victory — fewer than 2,000 votes, according to results certified by Washington counties Wednesday.

"We have already taken care of all the questions, so it’s just a matter of running them (ballots) through the machines," said Barbara Cothern, a Democrat who sits on the county canvassing board because she chairs the Snohomish County Council.

The total number of problem ballots here is a contrast to tales of Florida counties rejecting thousands of votes, or thousands of Florida residents "overvoting" by casting a vote for more than one person in the same race.

The only real glitch in the voting was nine misprinted ballots that asked voters in the 39th Legislative District to cast votes in the 1st Congressional District race, rather than the 2nd.

Konopasek said other misprinted ballots had been destroyed when the mistake was caught before the election. The flawed ballots were counted for every race but the congressional one, he said.

Representatives for the Republican and Democratic parties in Snohomish County voiced no concerns about decisions behind rejected ballots.

"We’re satisfied by the information that’s been presented to us," said Jerry Miller, chairman of the county Republican Party.

"I have a high level of confidence with our auditor," said Kent Hanson, chairman of the county Democrats.

Party representatives were present during all the vote counting, and Miller attended the canvassing board meeting Wednesday to certify the votes.

The chief reason for a ballot to be rejected was that election officials couldn’t confirm the voter was registered, or that the voter was the person they claimed to be, Konopasek said.

Ballots rejected included:

  • Roughly 800 "special" ballots cast by people whose registration couldn’t be verified at a polling place. Checks with county records could not show they were registered voters.

  • 161 absentee ballots returned without signatures on the envelope.

  • 15 returned with a power of attorney signature or a signature stamp, or were witnessed with no mark.

  • 34 absentee ballots returned in a "security envelope," but not a second one that must be signed.

  • 81 absentee ballots cast at polling places that had no printed name and an illegible signature.

  • 59 absentee ballots with a signature other than the voter’s.

  • 474 absentee ballots with a postmark after Nov. 7.

  • 26 "special" ballots cast by voters who had already sent in absentee ballots.

  • 16 absentee ballots from the primary election.

  • Two ballots where the actual ballot was signed, making it possible to identify how an individual voted.

  • Two in which a voter signed in the poll book and returned an absentee ballot.

  • 38 absentee ballots with signatures that didn’t match the ones with the registration.

    Konopasek said election officials made every effort to count a ballot. In cases where the signatures didn’t match, they were reviewed four times, ending with a decision by the county’s canvassing board.

    If someone didn’t sign their absentee ballot, the county sent back a letter telling them they hadn’t, giving them another chance to sign it. That saved 326 ballots, he said.

    "We go the extra mile. The voters here are spoiled," he said.

    Next time, the county will try to cut the number of people who don’t print their names on envelopes for absentee ballots cast at polling places. Now, election monitors are supposed to instruct people to print their names. But the county will create envelopes with a spot for a printed name clearly marked on the envelope, Konopasek said.

    For the ballots that were counted, a small percentage had overvotes. In the tight Senate race, county machines found 57 overvotes, and 3,862 ballots where there was no detectable vote. The county doesn’t have to deal with the dispute over loose chads because it uses ballots marked by voters and read by optical scanners rather than punch cards.

    The presidential race had the highest number of overvotes of any contests in the county with 613. Konopasek said in many of those cases people had filled in a vote for every candidate in the race.

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