Standing out in the parking lot while talking on a handheld radio, Pierce County Auditor Julie AndersonÂ watched the line of cars, one by one, pull up to the county elections center in Tacoma on election day this month.
Anderson, who has been overseeing elections in the county as the auditor since 2009, couldnâ€™t have been happier with the dry and sunny weather and the stream of voters depositing their ballots at the drive-up dropbox.
â€œThis is going to be a great election day,â€ said Anderson.
The county provided about 30 dropboxes around the county for voters to deposit their ballots without having to mail them. And to sweeten their resolve to drop off ballots postage-free at the elections center, when the drivers handed their ballots to election workers, they received a coupon for a free Krispy Kreme donut.
Anderson anticipated a record-setting voter turnout for the general election that ended Nov. 8. Of the countyâ€™s 490,666 registered voters, she expected election workers would be processing up to about 475,000 ballots.
The day before the final day of voting, the center added a graveyard shift of workers, for a total of three shifts. Altogether, the auditorâ€™s office hired an additional 450 part-time workers to help account for all the incoming ballots via the mail and dropboxes.
Thirteen full-time workers and the election temps labored in the elections centerâ€™s â€œbee hive,â€ as Andersron calls it. Sitting at 10-foot tables, busy workers verified ballots, while across the room, more workers stared at 10 computer screens verifying ballot signatures. One of the verifiers, Rose Coggins, sat at a computer terminal looking at signatures on file.
â€œThis is my second elections performing this job,â€ Coggins said. She and others doing it first had to be certified by attending an all-day workshop taught by Washington State Patrol handwriting specialists.
â€œNext to the workers verifying signatures, another area we set up is called the challenge center, where flagged ballots (ones with a problem being verified) are given a more thorough lookover,â€ Anderson said.
A secured room housed eight tabulation machines operated by 10 to 18 employees. Thatâ€™s where the ballot processing took place.
The ballot-handling process is continuing this week, leading up to the official certification of the election and its final results on Nov. 28. Vote-counting is still underway, but none of the local races in south Pierce County, nor any of the statewide or regional contests were in doubt at the end of last week.
Jim Bryant, who wrote this article, is a photojournalist from Port Orchard.