Elections by Mail

Elections by mail caused the state of Washington to issue a total of 361,996 more ballots than there were registered voters for the 2020 general election, according to information we obtained from the SOS. That is 7.5% more ballots than voters.

Washington conducts elections entirely by mail

Vote by mail was established without a vote of the people. Even worse, it was never even challenged.  Washington citizens potentially have had their votes and their voices silenced as a result of the vote by mail system.  It has many flaws and presents many opportunities to undermine our elections with the countless risks it presents.  

How do elections by mail work? We found a map of the election by mail process on the SOS website, then we added in some indicators showing which stages of the process we have identified as risks.

Elections by Mail History

  • 1974 – No excuse absentee was available for the first time in the USA.  Washington was the first to allow people other than military and people with disabilities to vote absentee.
  • 1983 – State allows for special elections to be conducted by mail
  • 1990 – Washington state starts registering voters through the DOL.
  • 1991 – Voters able to register as ongoing absentee voter, and an absentee ballot will be mailed to the voter for each election. 
  • 1993- Motor voter became law nationwide and the Department of Licensing is required to offer voter registration in addition to their regular services.
  • 2005 – Legislature developed vote by mail, but leaves it to the county auditor to decide to use it or not
  • 2011 – Senate bill 5124 was passed, replacing the existing voting laws.  This required all counties to switch to a vote by mail system statewide.  By this time, all counties were already conducting their elections completely by mail except for Pierce County.
  • 2018 – SOS and the Governor announce they have extra funds and will now pay for the return postage for the ballots.  This also changed the requirements regarding the type of mail service used.  See the News Release from Wyman and Inslee. 
  • & 2018 – RCW 46.20.156 – Automatic registration for everyone who obtains or renews a Washington state driver’s license or ID card.   If a person wishes not to register, they must opt out.  
  • 2019 – WAC 434-250-070 – OSOS makes election rule requiring the county auditors to allow the post office to forward ballots. Previously it was at the discretion of the county auditor.  See WSR 19-12-115.  Now we have no idea where these ballots are really ending up.  The post office won’t share this information, neither will the county.

Realities of the Vote by Mail Process

While it may seem more convenient to do elections by mail, it comes with many risks.  The 39 counties mass mail out over 5 million ballots for every election, including to those who have never voted.

Unless the auditor receives the ballot back as undeliverable from the post office, voters will remain active on the registration and continue receiving ballots, even if they have never voted.  It appears the county does not conduct a thorough review of the registrations.  They just mail the ballots out in bulk… All around the world.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Mailing Out the Ballots

In the November 3rd, 2020 election, there were over 27 thousand voters with overseas mailing addresses, 21 thousand of which voted. The 2020 census stated that there are 10,665 Washington “residents” who are living overseas… We have no idea where these ballots really end up, or if they actually make it to the intended voter. 

Additionally, ballots are forwarded by the post office or a third-party mail service provider. The Auditor is required by law to allow forwarding of ballots to people who may have moved, or for whatever reason choose to have their mail forwarded to an unknown location.

Receiving the Ballots Back

Voting by mail allows votes to continue to be accepted after the deadline.

What is preventing anyone from adding votes if they aren’t happy with the results? There is no post mark required for the ballots. If the post mark is missing on the envelope, the filled in date of the voter on the envelope is then substituted for the post mark date.  

Dragging Out the Process

Elections are no longer conducted on election day. The scanning and tabulating of the ballots goes on for weeks, thanks to the vote by mail system. This means, practically speaking, it is unlikely to have election observers present the entire time. Counting could start before any election observers arrive, after they leave, in the middle of the night, or any number of times throughout the weeks-long process.

Letting go of the vote by mail convenience is possibly the one solution that would have the most positive impact in the effort to create a secure and transparent election process.  

Initiate the Change

While we would like to see the entire vote by mail completely eliminated, the reality is that it may need to be done in different stages. We need to chop a little off the block over and over, until we have a system which is more fraud proof. In our opinion the level or risk currently is overwhelming.

From our investigations there seems to be a significantly greater degree of inadequacies in the system and existing opportunities for interference than the degree of positive aspects about the system and the security measures in place to guard against the vulnerabilities.

There are ways some risk could be eliminated without throwing out the whole system. One thing would be to change certain laws which allow unnecessary threats to the integrity of the process. Some of those would include repealing the law which allows ballots to be forwarded to an address other than the registered address. Exceptions may be required but removing the optional mailing address as an alternative to having the ballot sent to the registered address would cut down on ballot harvesting concerns.

Also, restricting the delivery of ballots to a person’s residence instead of various businesses or an unknown location would reduce risks.

Reviewing the laws and rules of the election process we have noticed what seems to be the robustness of the system deteriorating over the past couple decades, due to the changes the legislature has made to the laws, and the rules set by the Secretary of State. Little by little it appears they have been reducing security and transparency.

Adding to that we are currently experiencing what appears to be a lack of cooperation and concern from the OSOS, county election officials, as well as a lack of concern from our legislators. The thing about it is, we’re sure that in many cases they are aware of these issues. However, because currently it seems these things are for the most part in their favor, they turn a blind eye to the vulnerabilities and deny anything is wrong. Read Running Out the Clock for more details on the efforts to keep people from looking into these issues.

Vulnerability Flowcharts

What we can do now

In the meantime, we encourage everyone to vote in person, at the county election’s office, which is also the county auditor’s office. They are required by law to be open for in person voting, and for issuing replacement ballots. We also believe voting on election day, or as close to it is safer than voting early. If enough people start voting in person, they will need to open more in-person voting locations. It would also be a strong indication to election officials that voters would like the state to opt out of elections by mail. See our Call-to-Action page for more details.