In elections we (used to) trust

The question of course, beyond all the noise, dire warnings and borderline hysteria is very simple; what has changed?

For over 250 years, free and fair elections were, in theory, if not always in practice, a central feature of a working participatory democracy republic.

For better or worse, as many of us can’t help noticing, trust in our system, is not what it once was.

The question of course, beyond all the noise, dire warnings and borderline hysteria is very simple; what has changed?

Election denialism has moved from cranky conspiracy mongering to a crowd-pleasing campaign platform talking point.

It would be easy to make the argument that a generation, or even a decade ago, no one anywhere on the political spectrum would have believed that such a theme would have been possible, let alone dominant.

Voting machines were designed to literally tabulate legitimate ballots.

What could be more inarguable and indisputable than the mechanical counting and correlating of registered voters with their ballots?

But of course, a public reliance on election offices, based on both trust and a presumed level of objectivity was the operating atmosphere at every level from precinct to national elections.

Any democracy operates on one basic principle; every legitimate vote is counted.

This could not be more simple. It is the contortions, exaggerations and outright ignorance that makes it complicated.

Here are just a few allegations that you may have heard.

I saw them count that ballot three times!

Local elections ballots, as a general policy, attempt to be as open and transparent as possible.

What they do, and how counting ballots actually works, may not always be clear to an uninformed observer.

One complaint I have heard from actual or online observers is the act of running a single ballot through a machine more than once.

Just a simple might clarify the issue here; how else would any machine tabulate multiple responses on a single page?

In Pierce County, our most recent election had this summary of results:

The February 13, 2024, Special Election has been officially certified by the Canvassing Board. The Board is composed of Deputy Auditor Cindy Hartman, County Council Member Marty Campbell, and a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney.

The final turnout of the election was 28.10% with 91,461 ballots accepted and tabulated.

There were 44,190 ballots returned to a drop box. The top 5 most used drop boxes were:

1. Kandle Park Police Substation (4,345 ballots)

2. Puyallup Library (4,082 ballots)

3. Pierce County Annex (3,421 ballots)

4. South Hill Library (3,371 ballots)

5. Bonney Lake Park & Ride (3,056 ballots)

The total number of rejected ballots was 1,006. Of those rejected ballots, 75% were returned too late, 10% had signatures that did not match their voter record, and 11% did not sign their envelope.

View the full certification report and results at

Notice in particular those last two points.

21% of returned ballots had problems with their signature.

One notoriously ignorant political candidate on the national stage made the comment that “anyone could send out a ballot”.

It might be technically true that “anyone could send out a ballot”, but that is irrelevant. The only ballot that is counted is the one that is matched with a signature of a previously registered and confirmed voter.

You might think of ballots as entering something like a funnel, each one making its way to its officially authorized name and signature.

And each name and signature is tied to a particular precinct – usually one with a fairly stable voting history.

If there are more ballots returned than registered voters, to emphasize the obvious, they are not legitimate and therefore won’t be counted.

Broken down like this, voter fraud is near impossible, and when it does happen, it is more like a matter of two or three votes out of a few hundred.

And, just a reminder here; altering that two or three ballots is a felony.

And yes, if you vote for someone else, “as they would have wanted to” if they have moved or died, that too, is a felony.

Every legitimate ballot should be counted

Election workers (and their machines) count each precinct’s ballots.

Any late ballots (perhaps military ballots delayed in the mail) would not be counted in bulk, but aligned with individual names and precincts before being counted.

“Adding” a thousand (or two) ballots would have near zero impact on any election because, unlike vague and unfounded conspiracy accusations, each individual ballot has its own trail and final place of correlation and confirmation.

The voting process, to be fair and thorough should be as open and transparent as possible.

You can see everything you need to know about local elections in Pierce County here:

You can see the statistics on recent elections, and as a result, your comments will be, at minimum, a bit more informed.

Here are a few numbers I found informative and revealing.

In the most recent election (November 7, 2023) there were 554, 515 registered voters in Pierce County. A shade over 30% of them (168,324) voted on that day.

129 of those ballots were not signed (and not counted unless confirmed). 1,177 of those ballots were submitted too late to be counted. The average age of voters on that day was 57.

19 potential voters submitted empty envelopes. 295 ballots had signatures that did not match. 11 were submitted by someone other than the registered voter.

In Pierce County many thousands of ballots were submitted through election-drop boxes through-out various neighborhoods – up to 6, 857 (West Pierce Fire & Rescue) or 6,427 (Kandle Park Police Substation) and down to 26 at Elbe.

In short, our electoral process may not be perfect, but it is transparent, representative and confirmed every step of the way.