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caption: KUOW newscaster Paige Browning with the two ballots she received.
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KUOW newscaster Paige Browning with the two ballots she received.
Credit: Courtesy Paige Browning

Dozens of King County voters, living and dead, get duplicate ballots

Several dozen King County voters have reported getting two ballots in the mail. The director of King County Elections attributes that to glitches in the Secretary of State's new VoteWA voter registration system.

State officials say the off-year primary is the ideal timing.

King County said in some cases the state’s new voter registration system has created two registrations for a single person, because they have two versions of their name, with and without an apostrophe for example, or a middle name.

King County Elections Director Julie Wise said typically when voters update their records after a change of address, the county may send a second ballot but both are tracked as single registration.

“Those aren’t uncommon, what’s uncommon is for us to have true duplicate records,” she said.

Wise said 73 people have contacted them saying they received two ballots.

Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary said part of the problem is the state Department of Licensing’s new format for ID numbers. Since they don’t match the old ones, the voter registration system counted some of them as new voters. But Neary said they only identified 30 duplicate voter registrations statewide.

Wise said they’ve prevented any extra ballots from being tabulated in King County.

“We’re doing a more rigorous duplicate check ourselves, we’re running nightly and reconciling those records,” Wise said. “We’ve been successful in reconciling them into one record before any ballots have gone through – multiple ballots for one individual – but I think that’s a great concern across the state with the new system.”

She said another problem was a function that was resending ballots flagged or challenged for any reason. Elections officials challenge a ballot when the voter signature doesn’t match the one on record. They can also flag the registration of a voter who is deceased.

Wise said they learned recently that the state system was prompting another ballot to be sent to those voters. That included seven cases in King County where a ballot was re-sent to someone after the first ballot prompted a family member to report to elections that they had died.

“Of course we’ve apologized to the family members that are receiving ballots again for deceased family members, we have reached out to them again to apologize for this mistake,” Wise said. “And again we’ve put challenges back within the system to insure that if those ballots were returned that they would not be processed or counted.”

Neary also confirmed that the problem with challenged ballots is now fixed.

“As soon as it was reported to us, that functionality was turned off. We identified each individual that was issued another ballot and those ballots were rejected or cancelled,” he said.

He said an off-year primary, which means lower voter turnout and complexity than a presidential year, is “a perfect time” to move forward with the VoteWA system.

“If you look in the election world they’ll tell you there’s never a good time to implement a new system, but we feel that implementing it now during this primary is definitely the best time to do that,” Neary said.

Meanwhile Wise said her IT staff at King County are working to catch any duplicate ballots before they’re counted, so voters should have confidence in this year’s primary election results.

But she added, “that was an issue that wasn’t caught until we were in the middle of a live election. And I’m not sure the ability to catch those is across the state.”

She noted that this is also the first election in which voters can register in person up until 8 p.m. Tuesday. They can go to locations in Kenmore, Bellevue, Seattle, Renton or Federal Way.

Her office projects voter turnout of 36 percent in the primary, or slightly higher in Seattle due to the focus on the Seattle City Council races.