Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman is defending her seat against a challenge from Democratic Rep. Gael Tarleton, who is calling for the audit.
Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman is defending her seat against a challenge from Democratic Rep. Gael Tarleton, who is calling for the audit. Secretary of State

Early this week candidates filing to run as Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) ran into a bunch of problems with VoteWA, the system that handles online candidate filing and voter registration/verification statewide.

On Monday and Tuesday, the system's filing portal did not allow PCO candidates, a mostly uncontested introductory office filled by party activists who lead volunteer efforts, to declare a party oath as required by a state code. After State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski alerted the Secretary of State's office to this problem, according to SOS spokesperson Kylee Zabel, on Tuesday evening the agency updated the portal to include the required declaration.

Zabel said a total of 2,190 candidates were affected by that issue, and as of Thursday morning 128 PCOs have not yet refiled. In a tweet, the SOS's office apologized for the error, thanked Podlodowski, and said they were contacting affected candidates directly.

However, PCOs also reported other problems with the system, according to a bunch of emails obtained by The Stranger.

After the SOS updated the portal, several Democratic PCOs said they could only refile as Republicans. Some PCO candidates say they didn’t receive confirmation for hours after they filed. Because they failed to receive that confirmation they hit the “submit” button several times, causing the system to charge them multiple times for a single filing, and so now they’re requesting reimbursements.

This confusion comes in the midst of what could be the most active season for candidate filing and voter registration in the state's history. Presidential election years always lead to busy primary ballots and increased voter activity, though the COVID-19 pandemic may temper those numbers a bit.

Zabel said the confirmation issue wasn't isolated to PCOs, and that it wasn't a glitch. Acceptance notifications to candidates don't go out until after an elections administrator conducts a review of the online filing application and accepts it. After the SOS started receiving emails from some candidates worried about their filing status and possible overcharges, Zabel said the agency updated the portal and "processed the refunds for any multiple payments by that evening."

When candidates went to refile on Tuesday and Wednesday, Zabel said, "they were only seeing an option to file for a PCO position of the opposite party," but all they had to do was refresh their browsers to get both options. "We assisted them with troubleshooting those problems Tuesday evening and yesterday," Zabel added Thursday.

Zabel urged PCOs and any other candidates struggling with the system to contact the SOS's office with questions or requests for help. Email: elections@sos.wa.gov. Horn: 360-902-4180.

In light of these troubles, on Wednesday Democratic Rep. Gael Tarleton, who is running for Secretary of State, called for an immediate audit of the VoteWA system.

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Over the phone, Tarleton said she'd been receiving text messages from Democratic PCOs and even one GOP PCO all Wednesday morning complaining of problems with the system. "I’ve been getting them yesterday and today from candidates filing in King, Spokane, Whatcom, and Kitsap Counties," Tarleton said Wednesday. "Sometimes it’s them not getting the correct district they were filing in, sometimes they just didn’t get confirmation for up to four hours, sometimes it took multiple payments and now they’re being reimbursed," she said.

"This is a case where the Secretary of State, who is responsible for this system, is ignoring the warnings," Rep. Tarleton added. "We’ve known for months that this registration and filing week was coming, and this is a classic problem of not being prepared to address a system that has had perennial problems since it was put into operation. We had warning signs from auditors all over the state in 2019, and [Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman] ignored them."

Various issues have plagued VoteWA, the $9.5 million voter registration system implemented last year. A few months before its use in the 2019 August primary, election officials ran into "a slew of problems" with the way the software handled voter data, which were "so troubling" they prompted King County officials "to use parts of King County’s existing system to handle the August primary." That year the system also went down a couple times only a few weeks before ballots needed to be printed, and it continues to run certain basic functions slowly.