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How easy is it to commit election fraud in Washington state?

caption: A ballot drop box in Seattle
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A ballot drop box in Seattle

KUOW news editor Gil Aegerter was poking around on the Washington state elections website when he noticed something strange: You can print out a ballot for anyone, as long as you know their birthday.

To demonstrate, he pulls up a ballot for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who is in charge of elections in Washington.

“It’s pretty easy, a few clicks of the button and I’m there,” Aegerter said.

But Kim Wyman said she's not worried.

“For someone to be able to download one of those, or 10 of these, is kind of irrelevant,” she said.

That's because a signature is required when you return your ballot, which is checked against a copy of your signature that's kept on file. Wyman calls it security "at the back end."

Aegerter pulls a copy of Wyman's signature online. Wyman's still not worried.

She points out that forging a ballot would be illegal and could be prosecuted as a Class C felony. I assure her Aegerter didn't go that far.

But what if someone like Vladimir Putin, for example, is willing to break the rules and figures out how to return thousands of fake ballots on Election Day?

“Tabulation is going to be a mess, even if there's ultimately a good way somehow to sort out the votes,” according to Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

“Confidence in the system plummets,” Gaines said.

He added that many people simply won’t believe the results, citing the app-based tally problems that derailed this year's Iowa caucus results.

There's no evidence that voter fraud has ever affected the outcome of a vote-by-mail election here in Washington state. And nationally, the issue of election fraud is highly politicized.

President Trump, for instance, has denied clear evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and at the same time, made false claims of voter fraud occurring here in the U.S.

For her part Kim Wyman, also a Republican, believes there is evidence of Russian interference.

“They're trying to disrupt confidence in our system,” she said.

But she’s more worried about electronic voting than our vote-by-mail system.

“That's where I start getting really uneasy,” Wyman said.

This year, military and overseas voters will be allowed to vote electronically in Washington's presidential primary. Wyman backed a bill this legislative session to try and kill that. It failed.

Others argue electronic voting is needed, especially to help military personnel participate, and in general to expand voter access.

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