We are privileged to work closely with election officials every day and their work to safely and securely administer our elections goes far beyond what voters see on Election Day. To shine a light on the important role they play in our democratic process, we launched this Q&A series highlighting their work. Here, Pierce County, WA Elections Supervisor Kyle Haugh tells us about his work:
Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got involved with election administration, and how your county primarily votes.
I started out as a poll worker in Monongalia County, WV when I was in grad school and was eventually hired to work in their county clerk’s office. I came out to Washington State in 2018 and am currently the Elections Supervisor in Pierce County.
Pierce County has about 550,000 active registered voters and we’ve been a fully vote by mail county since 2011. Voters here really like voting by mail because it’s convenient and gives them time to make an informed decision. We have an 18 day early voting period and every registered, eligible voter is mailed a ballot within that window. We also provide voter pamphlets that list the candidates, statements provided by each candidate, and explanations of ballot measures. Voters like to vote by mail because they can take the time to do additional research at their kitchen tables and then cast their votes.
If a voter doesn’t have an address, we register them at the cross section or landmark where they typically reside. If they don’t have mail service or are unable to vote by mail for accessibility reasons, they can go to a vote center to cast their vote any time within the 18 day early voting window. We have ballot marking devices available at vote centers, which are really important for individuals who can’t vote using pen and paper.
Tell us about your county’s vote by mail security measures.
Vote by mail in Washington State is incredibly reliable. Every eligible voter must have a valid ID. Voters must include a signed voter oath along with their voted ballot, and that signature must match what we have on file.
A big advantage of vote by mail is that ballots are all centrally counted at one secure location in the county and all ballots are cross checked at one location to ensure a voter hasn’t voted more than once. Our central count tabulation system is never connected to the internet and never leaves the building.
We also have secure drop boxes readily available. In the 2020 general, 75% of voters used a drop box to submit a ballot and they are broadly popular across the political spectrum here. We won a Clearie Award for our drop box chain of custody measures – we use an app that helps track every movement of the people we hire to pick up ballots from the drop boxes and deliver them to the central counting location. When you have folks traveling through such a large geographic county (even using ferry boats), it’s valuable to see where they are in the process.
As administrators of our democracy, election workers’ jobs are so important to carry out our democratic process. How does that responsibility shape your approach to your work?
It shapes everything we do. We’re always evaluating ourselves and reminding each other of our mission and who we serve. We create processes to audit ourselves to make sure we’re doing what’s most accessible, secure, and efficient for voters and taxpayers. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we’re administering elections and that those election results affect everyday people.
What would you like voters to know about how your county implements transparency and accountability when it comes to mail voting? What other safeguards do you have in place?
We want everyone to feel good about our election systems and our county works really hard to maintain a strong observer program designed to engage with both political parties. We also offer trainings for observers so they know what they should be looking out for because we want them to report back to their communities on the work we’re doing. For example, they can see how we’re accounting for ballots at every step of the process, like tracking how many ballots were submitted via a drop box, how many ballots went from the drop box or mail sorting area to the next path in the process, and cross checking the number of accepted ballots and the number of ballots being tabulated. These types of checks are just as essential as post-election audits, which we also conduct.
Tell us how voters can become more informed and engaged in elections.
Check out all the information we have on our website and read through our voter pamphlets. We also employ a lot of folks so keep an eye out for job opportunities – vote by mail requires a lot of individuals to perform processes like opening ballots and checking signatures. If you’re political, talk to your party to become an observer. If you live in Pierce County, we’re always happy to give you a tour to show you how we’re spending your taxpayer dollars!
What don’t Americans know about the election process in your county that you wish they did?
I wish people knew that we work 365 days a year. We have elections all the time – at the local, state, federal level – not just every four years. We’re always preparing for the next election, whether it’s registering voters, updating voter rolls, designing ballots, or designing voter pamphlets. We are a full-time, dedicated team of professionals who are constantly working to make elections run securely and smoothly.
If you, like us, know how important election officials are for our democracy – consider thanking them for their service. Find your local election official at www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier and send them a note of appreciation for all of the work they do. Feel free to send suggestions for other election official heroes we can interview to firstname.lastname@example.org.