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New polling center in Everett to ensure transparency and security

New polling center in Everett to ensure transparency and security

EVERETT — This month, about 500,000 ballots will be mailed to Snohomish County voters for the upcoming primary election, and the Auditor’s Office will be able to count them in brand-new facilities.

On Tuesday, the Auditor’s Office opened a new $8.6 million, 16,000-square-foot vote center in downtown Everett, just in time for this year’s election.

Since there are presidential elections this year, voter turnout is expected to be higher than in the last midterm elections.

In one of the main rooms of the election center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)In one of the main rooms of the election center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In one of the main rooms of the election center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Previously, elections were held mainly on the ground floor and in the basement of the county administration building. Due to space constraints, election workers often sorted and counted ballots in different locations.

In high-turnout elections, the district would have to rent space near Paine Field to handle the additional work.

Two floors above the original office, all parts of the counting process are consolidated into a new floor designed for “capacity, security and transparency,” said County Auditor Garth Fell.

A panoramic view of the entire floor gives witnesses an insight into the process. Large glass windows in every room ensure that nothing remains hidden.

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

Along the tour, the walls are lined with cameras and monitors on which observers can follow every movement of the election workers via live stream, such as checking the signatures on the ballot envelope.

Open ceilings in every room provide a view of the pipes and cables that power the building. Fell said this was intentional, to create even more transparency throughout the building.

Viewers can also see what wires and cables are connected to the computers. The computers used to cast votes are not connected to the Internet to ensure that the results are not tampered with.

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

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

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

A room with extra security and large glass windows stores ballots from previous elections. In the old facility, many of the archived ballots were stored in the basement, where they were barely visible to the public.

As poll workers begin counting votes, voters and residents can follow the process. Fell encourages that.

“Our goal is to educate the public and make sure people understand the electoral process,” he said.

The new facilities were largely financed by federal grants and other funds earmarked for election-related capital projects, Fell said.

Fell predicts turnout for next month’s primary election will be about 45 percent. For the general election in November, average turnout at the local level is over 80 percent.

A wall diagram shows the A wall diagram shows the

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

The center will not be the only innovation in this election year.

Once the local voter pamphlets have been mailed to residents throughout the county, a Spanish-language version will be available on the auditor’s website.

The Spanish brochures 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 may need language assistance when filling out a ballot.

Printed brochures or ballots in Spanish will not be mailed to voters who need them; they will be available only at the Auditor General’s office or online.

Ballots for the primary election will be mailed on July 18 and must be returned by August 6.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; [email protected]; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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