Editorial: Voting Aug. 6 will be a statewide experiment

Benton and Franklin county voters are part of a great statewide experiment though they probably don’t realize it.

Election officials across the state, however, are well aware of the major changes to the state’s voter registration system being tested for the Aug. 6 primary election.

All of Washington’s 39 counties are trying out, for the first time, the new online program called VoteWA — a single database connecting every election office in the state.

The new system is necessary to allow same-day voter registration, which launches this election. In the past, people had to register to vote by mail or online 28 days ahead of the election. Or, if they went in person, they could wait until eight days before the election.

Now, up until 8 p.m. Election Day, citizens conceivably can walk in to a county elections office, register to vote and mark a ballot and turn it in minutes later.

That’s because VoteWA allows election officials to see immediately whether a new voter is registered somewhere else.

It has taken months to get the new system ready. While the switch appears to have gone well so far in Benton and Franklin counties, other counties have reported glitches and other problems with the system — particularly in King County, which has over a million registered voters.

Recently, at a Senate state government committee meeting, King County Auditor Julie Wise said, “This project isn’t ready for our voters. It really isn’t. We need to go through a mock election. We need to test the system.”

While a test-run would have been nice to have before now, that’s not going to happen.

The Legislature set the timeline over a year ago against the advice of Secretary of State Kim Wyman. She knew it would be a struggle for counties with heavy populations to get the system ready in time.

But then last May, when a delay was being considered, Wyman decided the implementation of VoteWA should proceed.

The process was already in the works and testing it during an off-year primary election is better than in a general or presidential election.

It was a good call.

Last week, Wyman sent an open letter to legislators and county officials that said VoteWA has “enabled us to fortify the cybersecurity of our state and county elections to a level simply not possible with our current systems. We have added multiple layers of firewalls, monitoring, and threat detection software to protect election servers from intrusion.”

The new system cost $9.5 million, but it was necessary. Voting is too important, and aging technology can’t combat cyber threats.

We are fortunate in Benton and Franklin counties that election officials have been able to manage the changes without significant issues.

Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton said “hiccups” are to be expected whenever a transition is made to new software, but at her office it’s been “so far, so good.”

Election officials in Franklin County also are making the new statewide program work, and Auditor Matt Beaton said his team has managed the transition well.

The ultimate test will be when ballots are returned and counted.

As a group, county auditors are nervous something could go wrong, but in the end they are confident final results will be 100 percent accurate, according to the Everett Herald.

It helps that our state uses paper ballots, which can be used to confirm results if necessary.

Election Day will be here soon, and it is best to vote early instead of putting it off until the task is forgotten — or remembered too late.