by Phil Manzano
King County Elections Director Julie Wise paused, her voice hesitant as she responded to a simple question: Has she been watching the Jan. 6 committee hearings about efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election?
“I’m already tearing up and getting emotional just thinking about it,” Wise said during a Zoom interview last week. She hasn’t watched all of the hearings — it’s been just too difficult.
After launching the first hearing on June 9, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has been holding seven hearings, which present testimony and evidence gathered over the past year around what led a pro-Trump mob to storm the U.S. Capitol in 2020. The committee has thus far presented live and recorded testimony from mostly Republican officials close to Trump, such as former Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who were senior advisers to the president.
The fourth session, held on Tuesday, June 21, brought the issue close to home, focusing on the pressure put on state and local elections officials in key battleground states. In particular, the committee heard from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who former President Trump pressed “to ‘find’ 11,780 votes that did not exist,” according to California Rep. Adam Schiff.
The committee also heard powerful testimony from former poll workers who said they and their spouses, mothers, and children received harrowing death threats or faced mobs who showed up at their homes and threatened their lives. None who were working at the time still remains in their position.
“In my 22 years as an election official, I have never witnessed a landscape like the one we’re in now,” Wise said. “The tone of the questions, the level of the scrutiny — we’ve been doing stellar work for decades — the threats that I see facing our democracy are devastating.”
Wise is concerned false allegations of election fraud will obscure the diligence and efforts King County has put into elections. They erode trust in accurate and secure election processes, where the County accounts for every ballot submitted during each election.
“We reconcile (ballots) to 100% every single night of elections,” Wise said. “King County is up to 26 elections where we have reconciled with zero discrepancies.”
King County, one of the country’s largest and oldest vote-by-mail jurisdictions, has built a track record for reliability. The elections center was purchased in 2007, taken “down to the studs,” and remodeled to create a secure counting facility. A myriad of security measures they incorporated includes closed computer systems, biometric security systems, locked key card access doors, the elimination of crawl spaces to remove potential hidden spaces, security cameras, ballot storage areas located behind floor-to-ceiling chain-link fencing, and thousand-pound anchored ballot boxes.
“Security, cybersecurity, or physical security is 24/7, 365,” Wise said. ”It’s not a ‘check the box and done’; this is something we have to be continuously vigilant about.”
King County Elections balances hardened security measures against accessibility and transparency. Live public video feeds are available 24/7 during each election, and a one-fifth-mile loop circles the counting floor so the public can watch the count in person following each election. Meanwhile, the election department works year-round with hundreds of both Democrat and Republican election observers to oversee each count.
Beyond security, Wise is deeply concerned that disinformation will further dampen voter turnout. In order to increase participation, King County Elections is working with media and community organizations, such as the South Seattle Emerald, to get “good, accurate information out and to really encourage voters to go to trusted sources for election information.” It’s also ramping up its social media presence to share voting registration resources, such as forms and notices in different languages.
“We’re really fortunate here in Washington State, where we have leaders — on both sides of the aisle, both political parties — that really want to create legislation that makes our elections accessible and secure,” explained Wise.
Still, County projections indicate that about 45% of voters are expected to participate in the upcoming Aug. 2 Washington primary election. Wise encouraged anyone to reach out to King County Elections with any questions, how-to’s, or concerns about voting and elections. She said the County is “literally waiting by the phone for your call to help and answer any questions.”
“I don’t care what side you’re on,” Wise said. “Democracy is at its finest when all voices are heard. That’s what it’s supposed to be. My dream is 100% voter registration rate and 100% turnout.”
Have questions about voting or elections in King County? Reach an elections worker by calling 206-296-VOTE, or 206-296-8683.
This article is funded in part by a Voter Education Fund grant from King County Elections and the Seattle Foundation.
Phil Manzano is a South Seattle writer, editor with more than 30 years of experience in daily journalism, and most recently was the news editor for the Emerald.
📸 Featured Image: Election workers collect ballots. (Photo courtesy of King County Elections.)
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