Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ballot drop box observers seen monitoring voters in the Tri-Cities

Washington Secretary of State's Office
A ballot drop box.

More eyes are on ballots in the Tri-Cities area this election, according to reports from the Benton County auditor.

Voters in the Tri-Cities area have noticed vehicles sitting in parking lots near ballot drop boxes. People watch as voters drop their ballots. It’s an effort to monitor drop boxes after false claims circulated that people are illegally depositing multiple ballots into drop boxes.

Watching drop boxes is perfectly legal, as long as the observers stay at least 25 feet away and don’t intimate voters, including telling people who to vote for, which is considered electioneering, or talking to voters, said Brenda Chilton, Benton County auditor.

“They shouldn't be interacting with the people dropping their ballots at all. A voter may consider that to be a form of intimidation,” Chilton said.

Otherwise, Chilton said, election officials don’t mind people observing the drop boxes.

Election staff who now pick up ballots from the drop boxes daily also have noticed ballot observers, Chilton said.

According to the Washington secretary of state, vote-by-mail systems increase voting access. Moreover, recent studies have shown vote-by-mail systems do not increase voter fraud overall.

In fact, one study from 2021 estimated 73 more cases of voter fraud would have happened from 2011-19 in Washington with traditional voting systems instead of vote-by-mail systems.

During the Benton County ballot counting, trained observers from the county Republican and Democratic parties and the League of Women Voters can observe the official ballot processing, Chilton said.

At the same time, others can watch ballot processing and scanning livestreams at the county voting center, which election officials said they designed to maximize transparency.

“We have a secure area where our workers are, and our official observers can be inside the secure area,” Chilton said. “There's a big area next to it where people can just stand next to the fencing and watch and see what's going on.”

This year, trained observers could earn a stipend during the primary and general elections to help cover missed workdays, travel or childcare, Chilton said. Observers can earn $50 a day or $25 for a four-hour shift. Not every trained observer accepts the stipend, she said.

When people observe the election process, they say they have far fewer concerns, Chilton said.

“They have a lot more confidence that their ballot is secure and that the way they've cast their vote is being tabulated properly and reported properly,” she said.

Around 23% of ballots have been returned as of Wednesday afternoon in Benton County, a turnout close to what Chilton said county officials expected.

Courtney Flatt is a Richland-based multi-media correspondent for Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network focusing on environmental, natural resources and energy issues in the Northwest.