Next week's general election is expected to have the highest turnout on record for King County. Officials are already testing voting machines and making final preparations to ensure the process runs smoothly.
King County conducted logic and accuracy tests during the week of Oct. 13 on machines used to count and record votes at the polls.
On Oct. 31, the county will perform similar tests on the equipment used to count absentee ballots. Officials said once the tests are completed, the machines are locked in a secure location until the morning of Nov. 4.
"We have conducted 21 successful elections and implemented more than 300 reforms since 2005, and we are ready for the November election," said Elections Director Sherril Huff in a statement. "While many of the improvements will go unnoticed, voters should remain confident in the open, transparent and accessible environment that has been created as a result."
"It is a standard pre-election test to ensure that the equipment is calibrated and working," said Bobbie Egan, communications manager for King County Elections. "So far we haven't had a problem."
Their efforts come four years after the heated gubernatorial contest between Gov. Christine Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, which hinged on a razor-thin ballot recount and was disputed by Republicans for months.
In particular, they questioned whether absentee ballots were properly distributed to members of the military overseas.
Gregoire won re-election by a mere 129 votes.
King County uses a number of different voting methods at the polls, including both electronic and paper ballots. Egan says that a voter can choose either method.
While it is not federally mandated to, King County also has a paper trail to allow audits of all votes cast, including electronic ones. Egan says the audits are done every election to ensure all machines are counting votes accurately.
"We do a significant number of audits in King County," said Egan. "We pull at random 4 percent of the accessible voting machines."
Despite increased media attention for this general election, Egan said King County has not seen a spike in registrations during the follow up to the election.
"The percentage has been holding steady all the way back to 2004," said Egan.
King County currently has over 1.1 million registered voters, of which 716,416 are permanent absentee voter status and 385,698 are poll voters.
"We expect our largest mail return on election day and the day or two after," said Egan. "This means it may be a week before any clear victories will be known."
Voters are often accustomed to knowing election results quickly, but Egan said the entire vote count must be complete before the election is officially verified.
She reminded all voters to sign the absentee voter envelope to ensure that their vote is counted.
Currently, a majority of King County voters vote by mail; the county plans a switch to all absentee voters next year.
In Washington – unlike other states — mail-in ballots need only be postmarked by election. Other states require that the ballots be received on Election Day.
"We are urging people who chose to vote by mail to send them in early," said Egan.
Another issue concerning the timeliness of certifying the election is the number of provisional ballots, which are given to voter's whose name is not on the voter rolls at a polling place or didn't provide proper identification. In the 2004 general election, nearly 33,000 provisional ballots were cast, of which 28,000 were actually counted.
Washington is set to become the second state in the nation, after Oregon, to have all voters cast their ballot by mail.
"But even after going to all mail election in Feb. 2009, we still will have a number of regional voting places," said Egan.
For questions, call King County at 206-296-VOTE (8693).