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February 1, 2011 at 7:40 PM

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Report lauds King County Elections' extreme makeover

Posted by Keith Ervin

King County's once tarnished elections office "has become an international model for the efficient and accurate administration of elections," an oversight group says in its annual report.

Ellen Hansen, chairwoman of the Citizens' Elections Oversight Committee, said election officials from other counties and states now visit King County to learn how to count ballots accurately and in a way the public can understand.

Every single ballot among the 780,000 returned by voters in the November 2010 election was accounted for, Hansen told the Metropolitan King County Council's Government Accountability and Oversight Committee on Tuesday.

That's a sharp contrast to the 2004 gubernatorial election, when sloppy ballot-handling practices in King County played a lead role in Republican candidate Dino Rossi's unsuccessful legal challenge of Democrat Chris Gregoire's election as governor.

"I think it's been a series of improvements upon improvements," Hansen said in a phone interview. "For a long time it was hard to get anybody who wanted to even apply for the elections superintendent job because of all the bad publicity and uncertainties."

Among the most significant improvements, Hansen said, have been the transition to vote-by-mail elections, new safeguards to make sure the correct ballots are placed in envelopes sent to voters, and improved equipment for sorting ballot envelopes, scanning ballots and duplicating difficult-to-read ballots.

She said election management also improved with the hiring of former Chelan County Auditor Evelyn Arnold as elections superintendent in 2009.

The oversight committee said the number of undeliverable mail ballots dropped from 41,000 in February 2009 to 11,000 in February 2010 -- a change it attributed to all-mail voting, improved voter registration records and better communication with voters.

One election-night problem in November, Hansen said, were the long lines at regional voting centers set up for voters who have disabilities, misplace their ballots or choose not to vote by mail. When she visited the voting center in Tukwila after 9 p.m., some people had been waiting two hours to vote, she said.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.