From Mail-In Voting To The Ballot Box: Tackling Questions About Election Security

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Polling inspector Ann McClenahan counts early voting ballot envelopes at the polling station on Linnaean St. in Cambridge, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Polling inspector Ann McClenahan counts early voting ballot envelopes at the polling station on Linnaean St. in Cambridge, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Listen to our hour on how elections work in a pandemic here.

Election Day is fewer than six weeks away. But concerns around the election persist: Will it be safe to vote in person? How will states execute a variety of voting methods? Can we have faith in the legitimacy of the election results? We tackle those issues and more.  


Jena Griswold, Colorado Secretary of State. (@JenaGriswold)

Kim Wyman, Washington Secretary of State. (@KimWyman12)

Bertrall Ross, chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. (@Bertrall_Ross)

Interview Highlights With Kim Wyman

On how mail-in voting works in Washington State

Kim Wyman: “Here in Washington, very similar system to Colorado in that we mail ballots to every eligible registered voter 18 days before Election Day. And they have that period of time to return the ballot. And that needs to be returned with a valid postmark or dropped into a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. election night. So during that voting period, our counties are receiving ballots. And 10 days before Election Day, they can begin processing those, meaning they're checking every signature against the signature on file for the voter registration record.

"They are opening that outer envelope and removing the voter's name from the security sleeve or envelope that is included with their materials and then removing the ballot from that security sleeve, getting those ballots flattened out and ready to be processed and doing any kind of adjudication if the ballot can't be counted. Because, you know, the voter ate a hamburger while they were voting and it got ketchup on it and we couldn't put it through the reader. We get those ballots ready. And then at 8 p.m. on election night, they actually hit the button to count and tabulate those votes, and we report them.”

On what it would take for more U.S. state's to create strong election safeguards by 2024  

Kim Wyman: “It's going to require the political will on both parties to have the conversations — and tough conversations — and write laws and make changes that take into account the concerns of voter fraud and the concerns of voter suppression. And that's what's always going to result in the best laws and lawmaking, is when we have that bipartisan agreement. And that's a heavy lift in this era of really polarized politics. But I'm optimistic that we as Americans can rise above that and figure out what's going to work best as a country to ensure that every voice is heard and that we don't have fraud, and we don't have suppression.”

As a member of the Republican Party, what would you like the president to know about the security of mail-in ballots?

Kim Wyman: “First and foremost, I think what I would want to say to the public is understand that we have over 10,000 election officials like myself who are either appointed or elected, who answer to their voters and their constituents in their jurisdictions and conduct elections on their behalf. And that we are working very hard to ensure that we have the most accessible and most secure election that our country has ever conducted. It is not lost on any one of us, the stakes that are in this election and how important it is for all of us to do our jobs well. And so that is first and foremost in my mind that people need to understand that there's going to be political posturing. There are going to be lawsuits filed on both sides, and people are going to grandstand greatly about the security or the accessibility of this election. And in large part, that grandstanding is to set up doubt in case they lose.

"And so what I would say to my party is what I've said to Democratic people who I've talked to and party members. ... Let election officials do their job and do it well. And that's what we're committed to doing, is having an accurate and fair election. And the way you do that is balancing access and security. And to the president's comments. We are not conducting an election that is in any way frivolous or meaningless. These ballots all mean something. They are the voices of every eligible American who is casting a ballot. And this process has been set up for many, many years. And we are going to ensure that we carry out the duties to the Constitution, to federal law that applies to elections and the state laws that we each have to follow in our own jurisdictions.”

Do you think more Republicans should stand up and tell the president his statements about election security are 'not helping'?

Kim Wyman: "Well, yes. And it's a difficult line I have to walk as the chief election officer, as well as a partisanly elected official ... and taking and owning the comments of members of my party, including the president. And I will say what I have already said to President Trump and to Attorney General Barr. That the concerns that they have, I would be happy to personally address. I would love to walk the president through what we do here in Washington, what states that conduct absentee or vote-by-mail elections do to secure ballots, and the processes that are in place.

"And I think we really need to take a deep breath and talk about those administrative processes that are designed to protect not only the integrity of the process, but to inspire confidence in both the winning and losing side of any election. So I really do wish that the president would talk to election officials like myself across the country. And let's allay his fears and let's get back down to the job. He can run a campaign, and we'll run the election and then we can move forward.”

From The Reading List

MarketWatch: "Opinion: I’m the Republican secretary of state in Washington — and I believe voting by mail works" — "There are several reasons why the 2020 general election will go down in history. A global pandemic, continued social unrest and a projected high turnout are just a few. Yet this ongoing debate over in-person vs. mail-in voting shouldn’t be one of them."

StateTech: "Q&A: Colorado’s Jena Griswold on How to Handle Election Security Threats" — "The possibility that a ransomware attack could cripple access to a voter registration database remains a major concern among cybersecurity officials."

Denver Post: "All Colorado voters will be able to track their ballots in fall election" — "Colorado voters will have a new tool this fall to ensure their ballot is counted."

New Yorker: "How Washington State Holds Its Elections by Mail" — "As the Trump Administration escalates its campaign to gut the U.S. Postal Service and discourage voting by mail, Washington’s Secretary of State, Kim Wyman, has emerged as an advocate for mail voting."

Seattle Times: "Kim Wyman is right: Make elections leader nonpartisan" — "U.S. Rep. Denny Heck was off-base when he suggested Secretary of State Kim Wyman was among officials 'complicit' in President Donald Trump’s war on mail voting at a Seattle campaign event Aug. 17."

WBUR: "Your Guide To Voting In The 2020 Election, From Mail-In Ballots To Hitting The Polls" — "Presidential election years historically draw more people to the polls than all other statewide contests. In the 2016 election, about 75% of eligible voters – or more than 3.3 million people – cast their ballots in Massachusetts."

Berkeley News: "Race, voting & elections" — "With the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest surging across America, five Berkeley Law professors on Monday described how race could profoundly impact the upcoming U.S. presidential election."

This program aired on September 24, 2020.


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