In this week’s “Maintenance Monday” blog, we connect with Julie Wise, Elections Director for Washington State’s King County. In her responses below, she provides a superb view of ways to lead list maintenance efforts in a large vote-by-mail county. Throughout her service in King County, Director Wise has been a leading proponent of significant election reforms that have made Washington State a national model in vote-by-mail.
King County is the 13th largest county in the U.S. and has approximately 1.24 million registered voters. Director Wise has done an excellent job partnering with the U.S. Postal
service (USPS) and others in the elections community to ensure an accurate, accessible, and innovative list maintenance process. Below are Director Wise’ answers to our blog questions.
EAC: Why is voter list maintenance important and what do you think is crucial for voters and policymakers to know about the process?
Julie Wise: Voter list maintenance is an extremely important piece of our day-to-day work. Accurate voter lists can prevent voter fraud and also help save on election costs. Washington is a vote-by-mail state and clean voter rolls ensure that we are not sending out ballots to bad addresses and ineligible voters. We want to be sure that the voter is voting on the proper candidates and measures for his or her current residence. Updated voter rolls also reduce the cost of mailing replacement ballots to new addresses for voters who moved.
While there have been a lot of improvements with new technology that have allowed us to process changes faster (such as electronically receiving our address update data from USPS), updating voter information can still be a very manual process. Undeliverable ballots and other mailed items that are returned to our office have to be processed one at a time and the information entered by hand.
EAC: Describe how you conduct voter list maintenance. How do your state and county officials work together?
Julie Wise: Most of our list maintenance is conducted either through notification from an outside agency—such as USPS or the Washington Secretary of State’s Office—or from the voter directly. The Secretary of State’s Office provides us with regular lists of voters who have passed away, voters who may be registered in more than one county, and felons who need to be removed from the voter rolls. We also check the obituaries every day for voters who passed away.
Washington State participates in ERIC (Electronic Records Information Center) that compares voter registration and motor vehicle licensee data, in 21 other states using sophisticated data matching software. This allows us to have even more accurate voter data on file and ensure that the voter is only registered in one state. ERIC also provides an additional check for voters who have passed away or have moved within the state. Using ERIC data, The Secretary of State’s Office mails a postcard to any eligible but not yet registered person in the state encouraging them to register to vote, which provides a balanced approach of integrity and access.
We also work with our ballot print vendor to ensure that our addresses meet USPS addressing standards. Prior to each election, we run our voter file against a CASS database to verify that the addresses we have on file meet USPS delivery standards. Doing this allows us to mail our ballots at a discount and also ensures the data we have on file is accurate.
EAC: What do you do to ensure that voters are not incorrectly removed from the voter rolls?
Julie Wise: Accuracy is paramount in list maintenance. Before cancelling a voter’s registration, we will make sure that we can match at least two pieces of information in the report or obituary to the voter’s record on file. Cancelled records remain in our system for three years, so if an error is made, we will be able to re-instate a voter.
We also have a category of voters that are “inactive”. Voters who are “inactive” will receive a confirmation card sent to every address we have on file for them to see if we can get the most current information from them. If we receive no response from the voter, they will remain on inactive status for two federal general elections before they can be cancelled. This gives the voter several years to correct the information on file, but also ensures that we are not sending ballots out to known bad addresses.
EAC: How does voter list maintenance help you administer and plan for elections?
Julie Wise: We have an online ballot delivery system that voters can use to replace their ballot. We allow inactive voters to access this system as well, which allows them to download and print a ballot packet to mail back to us. If an inactive voter returns a ballot, we will process their ballot for that election and reactivate their record for all future elections.
EAC: How does your office define success in the voter list maintenance process?
Julie Wise: We process the information we receive from the state, other counties, and from ERIC data in advance of creating our data files for each upcoming election to ensure that we are not mailing out ballots to voters who are no longer at the address we have on file. Our voter list maintenance process results in a very low number of ballots returned to us as undeliverable each election. We also work diligently to have accurate data entry, to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised in our process of keeping the files clean.
EAC: What additional resources would help you enhance your current voter list maintenance procedures and make improvements to your voter rolls?
Julie Wise: The addition of more states to the ERIC system is crucial to having more accurate voter rolls. Being able to compare information with 20 other states means more accurate data, but only for voters who live in a state that participates in ERIC.
Leveraging technology and electronic reports for faster processing in our system will also help us enhance our list maintenance going forward. Switching to electronic reporting for forwarded ballots and the ability to directly import that into our Election Management System has helped make some aspects of our list maintenance more efficient and cost effective, but there is more work to be done to improve it further.
EAC: What is one tip or best practice you would share related to voter list maintenance?
Julie Wise: Work with partners to get the most accurate data possible. Having a clean list cuts down on costs and also enables our partners in vote-by-mail, such as the USPS, to help us have a smooth election.
We are very thankful to Director Wise for participating in our “Maintenance Monday” blog series. Please join us next week as we conclude our “Spring Cleaning” effort and provide a top ten list of list maintenance best practices that we learned from election officials across the U.S.