Funding available for voter education and technical assistance with limited English speaking (LES) communities

King County Elections (KCE) and the Seattle Foundation (SeaFdn) have released a second round of funding to support community-based voter engagement. Up to $8,000 is available to community-based organizations to support voter education and cultural technical assistance with limited English speaking voters in King County for the 2016 General election.

A significant need among LES eligible voters – specifically immigrant, refugee and indigenous communities – is education and culturally relevant technical assistance around understanding all aspects of the voting and democratic process. Applicants are encouraged to propose activities tailored to the culture and needs of their communities on:

VOTER EDUCATION:  Gatherings (e.g. workshop or ballot party)  or outreach that educates LES voters on various aspects of the voting and democratic process such as voting and democracy 101, process, issues, candidates, deadlines, etc.

CULTURAL TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE:  Culturally and linguistically relevant one-to-one technical assistance to LES voters on completing a voter registration form, a ballot, updating voter information, where to find a ballot box and any other relevant direct support and assistance needed.

Through this second phase of 2016 pilot voter engagement funding, KCE and SeaFdn are seeking to partner with community groups with bicultural, bilingual expertise and with deep roots among King County’s top-tier limited English speaking communities.  Applications are due by 5pm on Monday, July 11. Further details about the application and funding process can be found in the linked application packet.

Technical assistance is available to complete the application. Please contact Cherry Cayabyab, King County Elections, at 206.240.6176/ or Aaron Robertson, Seattle Foundation, at 206.240.4031/ no later than 1 week prior to the due date for assistance.


We’ve got a new look!

You may have noticed our new look that not only includes this new blog (welcome!) but also our social media profiles and the Primary Election ballot you’ll receive in July.

Why the change? From Elections Director Julie Wise, “When I took office this January, one of my goals was to re-brand King County Elections so that we are better able to connect with our widely diverse population of voters. I wanted a simple, fresh look that would resonate with all of our communities, regardless of what age they are, what language they speak, or where they live.”

We decided to focus on the word “vote” because it is a powerful, enduring concept that translates well in many different languages. We selected blue and red as primary colors and purple and green as secondary colors. Collectively, the vote image and colors communicate enthusiasm, democracy, pride, dedication and the power of your voice. We’d love to know what you think!

Right now, “vote” is in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese (see below) and we’ll be able to add additional languages as we move forward.

Why these specific languages? Federal law requires counties to translate ballots, voters’ pamphlets and all other voting-related materials if more than 5 percent of voting age citizens in a jurisdiction (Chinese and Vietnamese in King County) are members of a single-language minority group who do not “speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.” At King County we’ve decided to set an even more inclusive bar – which is why we’ll be adding Korean and Spanish this fall!

King County Elections Vote! logos

Did you know?

  • There are 1.2 million voters registered in King County. Over 88,000 new registrations were added to the voter count in 2015. You can register on our website!
  • Besides English, all election materials are printed in Chinese and Vietnamese and soon Korean and Spanish will be added.
  • With the online ballot tracker a voter can track their ballot at three different points in the elections process. Your vote is private. After your signature is verified, the connection between your name and your ballot is severed. Learn more about how your ballot is handled.

How your ballot is handled

Do you ever wonder how your ballot magically appears in your mailbox 2-3 times a year? Do you wonder how it gets counted? Most voters are not aware of the intricate processes involved to run the largest vote-by-mail county in the U.S. Here is a high-level, crash course:

1. Assembling the ballot packet

Your ballot packet is assembled about four weeks prior to Election Day.  Ballot packets include a customized ballot (based on your jurisdiction), security and return envelopes, and any informational inserts.

2. Mailing the ballot

If you are a local voter, your ballot is mailed to you three weeks before Election Day. If you are an overseas or a U.S. service voter, your ballot is mailed 45 days before a Primary or General Election and 30 days before Special Elections to allow more time for the ballot to reach you. 

3. Voting your ballot

You have until Election Day to vote and return your ballot. Your ballot must be deposited in a ballot drop box no later than 8 p.m. on election night, or be postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service no later than Election Day.

4. Sorting the incoming ballot

20150209-Sorting (1)
Ballots are sorted during an election

Your ballot packet is returned to our office where a mail sorting machine scans the bar code for your information and takes a picture of the signature on the envelope. This signature will then be used in the verification process.

5. Checking the signature

State law requires that we compare the signature on the ballot envelope with your signature on file before we can count your ballot. If the signatures match, we can count your ballot. If the signatures do not match or is missing, we contact you by mail, email, and phone letting you know how to take care of the issue. You have until the day before the election is certified to respond.

6. Opening the ballot

First, we remove all the security envelopes from the return envelopes in an entire batch of ballots. Next, we remove all ballots from the security envelopes. Finally, we inspect the ballot to see if the scanning equipment can correctly read the vote. Ballots that will be read correctly are sent to be scanned right away. Ballots with damage or unclear marks are sent to another work group to be prepped for scanning.

7. Reviewing the ballot

201511-BallotReview (2)
Elections staff duplicate a ballot

If your ballot will not be read properly due to stray marks, corrections, or the wrong color ink, it is reviewed by a team of two people to determine how best to process the ballot. We might physically duplicate your vote onto another ballot or we might do so electronically in our tabulation system. We use the Voter Intent Manual created by the Office of the Secretary of State to ensure we are counting your vote as you intended. Using this guide ensures our voter intent decisions are made consistently from team to team and election to election.

8. Counting votes and sharing results

Once your ballot is ready for counting, a machine scans the ballot and stores the images on a secure and closed system. The tabulation server is secured in a room with security cameras, biometric controlled access, and tamper evident seals. Tabulation occurs at 8 p.m. on election night and results are made public soon after. Scanning and counting continue until all eligible votes are counted and the election is certified.

You can watch sorting, opening and scanning live during an election on our website.

Making every vote count

Washington State is a “voter intent” state which means we make every effort to count your vote. Even when a ballot isn’t properly filled out (for example if it’s filled out with a pencil or if a voter circles a candidate rather than filling in the oval) it can likely still be counted. In fact, the Washington State Secretary of State created a Voter Intent book full of pictorial examples (see below) on how a variety of votes should be interpreted. If a situation is has not been addressed in the Voter Intent Book, it is up to the County Canvassing Board to determine voter intent.

Making every vote count is a key component of fair and accurate elections. Besides analyzing ballots closely for voter intent, we give many voters a second chance to “cure” or make their vote valid. We send out “challenge” letters (and phone calls) to ask voters to update their signature so it can be verified. Having a 2-3 week period between Election Day and Certification Day gives voters a chance to respond to a “challenge” and get their vote counted. Challenge letters start going out as soon as ballots start coming in, and continue to be sent up to the Election Day deadline.

If you receive a letter or phone call from us, please respond as soon as possible – Presidential Primary Election challenge responses are due by 4 p.m. on June 6.

Example of an overvote
Example of messy marks
Example of a ballot with written instructions

Removing Barriers for Limited-English Speaking Voters

Imagine that English is your second, or even third language and you want to vote in an upcoming election. If you speak Chinese or Vietnamese you can get a voter pamphlet and ballot in your language and soon elections materials will be translated into Spanish and Korean as well. Starting this summer, we will begin working with community-based organizations to increase awareness and voter registration in all of the above mentioned communities. The voter registration form itself is also translated into the following languages: Somali, Tagalog, Ukrainian, Japanese, Arabic, and Burmese.

We are laying the ground work now to partner with a variety of organizations to get the word out about translated materials in creative ways. Relying on the input of people who live and work in a targeted community will be the key to how well each of these communities are informed about upcoming elections, translated voter materials, etc. Making decisions that are sustainable for the long-term as well as positioning voting as a community-focused event are two key goals of this partnership.

The idea that every vote counts is particularly relevant at the local level when residents are called on to help make decisions about schools, fire departments and parks.

We should make it as easy as possible to exercise the right vote!

Spanish and Korean voter registration form and voting guides
Spanish and Korean voter registration form and voting guides

More drop boxes on the way

Voter returning ballot at drop box
Voter returning ballot at drop box

Sometimes it’s more convenient to drop a ballot on the way to or from somewhere instead of mailing it especially when the deadline looms. And who has a stamp handy anyways? Many of us rarely do.

Removing barriers and improving access to ensure that every voter is able to easily exercise their right to vote is one of the most important priorities for our department. Ballot drop boxes have become an important tool for voters here and thanks to a new proposal which was recently funded by the King County Council, the current number of drop boxes is going to grow from 10 to 43. This means that 91.5% of all King County residents will now live within 3 miles of a drop box.

King County Elections currently has 10 permanent ballot drop boxes and 12 temporary ballot-drop vans. The vans, which have limited hours and days of operation, will no longer be used. The planned expansion will add 33 permanent drop box locations. Installation of the boxes will be a phased approach:

  • 29 ballot drop boxes will be available for the August 2016 Primary Election. The list of locations will be available on our website by June 15.
  • The remaining 14 ballot drop boxes will be available for the November 2016 General Election.

Deciding on how many drop boxes to have and where to put them can be a tricky balancing act. Considerations such as cost, traffic flow, proximity to transit options, parking, and the presence of underserved communities all play a part in the decision making process. We are committed to keeping voter access a high priority.

Read more about our expansion plan.

New ballot drop box
New ballot drop box wrapped with new branding