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VERIFY: Spokane County processes mail-in ballots as they arrive, not all at once

With the 2020 General Elections less than three months away, many questions and claims about mail-in voting have started circulating.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — With the country less than three months away from the 2020 General Elections, many claims and questions have been circulating about the security of mail-in voting and how it works.

KREM viewer Jacquelyn reached out to our Verify team with a question about how ballots are counted in Spokane County.

"I make sure I return my ballot within 72 hours of receiving. I take it to a drop box at my local library. Are mail-in ballots counted when received at the Spokane County Elections Office or are they mandated to start counting them beginning on election day," Jacquelyn asked, so we set out to verify.

SOURCES

Our sources for this story are the National Conference of State Legislatures and Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.

The NCSL has information on all states that do mail-in voting, including which state law covers how ballots are processed and when results can be released.

Dalton oversees all elections in Spokane County, including registering voters, sending out ballots, and processing and counting ballots once they come in.

WHEN ARE BALLOTS COUNTED IN SPOKANE COUNTY AND WASHINGTON STATE?

"We actually do start processing ballots as soon as they come back to us," Dalton said.

Dalton said that her staff sorts out ballots as they start returning and verify that the signature on the envelope matches the one on the voter's registration record.

"As soon as we do that and they match then we're able to open the envelopes, extract the ballots, make sure that there isn't any corrections or changes on that ballot and then they do go into the trays, and then we run them as quickly as possible through the tabulations machines," Dalton explained.

But, and Dalton stresses the importance of this, the votes aren't counted at this point. Rather, an image of each ballot is taken and stored until election night.

"We make images of those ballots, those images are stored, and we cannot actually hit the count button until 8 o'clock on election night," she said.

The process is spelled out in Washington state law. According to the NCSL, the Revised Code of Washington states "No person may divulge the results of the count prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day. A violation is a misdemeanor."

Dalton also pointed out that the images of the ballots are stored on secure servers that are separate from the tabulation machines and aren't connected to the internet. The server also isn't WiFi-enabled.

"They're not connected to anything that can be possible to get to the internet. They are not WiFi-enabled, they are fully secured. They are safe," Dalton said.

THE VERDICT

We can verify that, in Spokane County, mail-in ballots that arrive before Election Day are processed as they arrive, but the votes aren't counted until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Have something you want verified? Send us an email to verify@krem.com, leave a voicemail for Mark Hanrahan at 509-838-7334, or text "Verify" to 509-448-2000 to receive a link to our Verify page.

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