Washington Legislator Wants to End State Voting by Mail


A Tri-City legislator says he's not giving up on trying to end Washington state's voting by mail and return voters to the polls.

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said he has a "reasonable suspicion" there is widespread fraud.

While he did not have a specific example of fraud, he said there is nothing stopping people from copying ballots and turning them in.

Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton, a Republican, said she can understand Klippert's concerns, but is confident that state election officials are good at ensuring each person only gets to vote once no matter where they get their ballot from.

"We hope to increase the confidence of people in elections," she said. "There was no public indication that there were major problems in 2020. I think because of the national narrative the confidence in elections took a big hit."

Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton, also a Republican, has said previously that Franklin County's elections also were secure.

While both counties have seen a handful of cases where people have voted twice. It's rarely more than two or three, said election officials. Those are handed over to the prosecutor's offices.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, also a Republican, has been a champion for the system as more states looked at switching to voting by mail. She spoke at a recent Washington State University Foley Institute presentation about security measures in place to protect state elections.

"The strength of our election system is multilayered and intertwined," she said. "From a decentralized system we do a good job of balancing access and security to the way we manage our data and provide both physical and cybersecurity," she said.

House bill dies

Klippert attempted to turn back the clock on the state's voting process this session with House Bill 1377.

The measure, which he introduced in late January, didn't make it through committee before the Feb. 15 deadline.

He was joined by five other Republicans as co-sponsors, including Reps. Rob Chase from Liberty Lake, Robert Sutherland from Granite Falls, Jesse Young from Gig Harbor, Tom Dent from Moses Lake and Jim Walsh from Aberdeen.

"From everything I've seen, my belief is that fraud in our voting system is widespread," he said. "The voters deserve to have an elections system that is without fraud. We must have fairness. We must have honesty, and we must have transparency."

Former President Donald Trump targeted voting by mail, citing similar concerns but without showing examples of widespread problems.

In Washington state, Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp filed suit, claiming ballots were cast by people from out of state and people who were dead .

But he dropped the suit Jan. 15, claiming it "doesn't mean the war is over."

Wyman's office said the claims were unfounded.

"These unsubstantiated allegations were without merit and created confusion among Washington voters," Wyman said at the time. "I welcome anyone who has questions about Washington's elections processes or who has substantive evidence of fraud to reach out to my office."

Security measures

Safety measures for Washington elections start with the software that tabulates the votes across at election offices across the state.

Each county picks from a list of software that has been approved by an independent federal agency and state officials.

Prior to an election the software and machines are tested to make sure they work properly.

As ballots come in, trained hand-writing experts make sure the signatures on the envelopes match the ones that are on file.

When election officials count the ballots, they work in pairs so no one person is alone with the ballots at any time.

Even after the election, the auditors offices keep the ballots for a time, and will spot-check precincts and races to make sure they were counted correctly.

With concerns about ballot box security in the 2020 election Benton and Franklin counties even put fire suppression systems in drop boxes.

"I do feel that elections are secure," Chilton said. "Washington state has worked really hard to put processes in place to secure the election. We have had a couple of cases that it appears that people voted twice, but I think overall, Washington state has done a very good job to put processes in place to ensure that it's one person and one vote."

While she feels the elections are secure, Chilton said there are always things they can do to make them safer, such as having cameras focused on the drop boxes.

Klippert concerns

Klippert, who plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse for Congress, said he felt more secure going to polls to vote because the people working there checked his ID and checked the signature there.

People would see him at the voting booth and ensure no one else was casting his vote.

He said he began to lose faith in the vote-by-mail system during the 2004 gubernatorial election between Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi. The historically close race was conducted part by mail and part in-person.

In the first count after the election, Rossi was ahead by 261 votes. During a second, machine recount, Rossi's lead slipped to 42. When the Democratic Party paid for a hand recount of the election, the Gregoire came out ahead by 130 votes.

Polling problems

While Klippert wants to bring back polling places, Chilton said there was also a host of issues associated with them.

While the county had great poll workers, they did make mistakes. This included leaving used ballots mixed in with unused ballots. While auditors found the ballots, it required time and effort.

In one case, a precinct committee officer didn't receive any votes in an election. After investigating, county election officials learned the polling staff never set up the machine with the precinct committee officer's race on it.

"They decided they had more machines than they needed," she said. "It wasn't really clicking that each precinct was voting on different things."

In addition, when the county switched to voting by mail, about 65 percent of the ballots were already "permanent absentee" ballots. The problem is they would need to have enough ballots at the polling locations to serve 100 percent of the voters.

Now that the state has moved to sending ballots out by mail, the county doesn't have the systems and people needed to operate polling places.

"Recruiting poll workers was incredibly difficult," she said. "To operate 20 polling places we would need recruit 500 poll workers."

Since all of those poll workers are paid, it would be an expensive proposition for the county. The costs would filter down to the districts that put items on the ballot, and eventually to the taxpayers.

Voting center

While voting by mail is more efficient, Chilton said there are a sizable number of people who want to cast their ballot in person.

Nearly 4,000 people showed up on Election Day at the voting center opened on Columbia Center Boulevard to help people with ballot problems.

"A lot of them came in because they wanted to vote in person," she said.

The county leased the building for the voting center for the next two years, and will need to consider what facilities will be needed in the future.