Welcome to Auds & Ends!
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Welcome to Auds & Ends, a blog about your local Auditor's Office!

We have a lot going on, from running up to four elections each year to recording your important documents, renewing your tabs, and providing financial guidance to county departments and offices. Auds & Ends is a place you can come for the latest news, projects and behind-the-scenes look at the Auditor's Office.

June is a busy month for us. At the end of the month (June 30), we have the deadline for boat tab renewals across the state, and we see a lot of customers renew close to the deadline. At the same time, the summer is our busiest time for couples to come to our office for their marriage licenses and a spike in home sales sees an increase in many types of recorded documents.

Did I mentioned the first ballots for the August 7 Primary Election go out toward the end of the month to military and overseas voters?

As I said earlier—there's a lot going on! We hope you enjoy learning more about your local Auditor's Office and some of the services we provide to the public. If you don't already, follow us on Twitter and Facebook where we'll also share blog posts and office updates.

Thanks for reading!



Cybersecurity and Elections
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, June 21, 2018

​In January 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated election systems as critical infrastructure. Last week our Elections team and I attended the annual Washington State Elections Conference in Spokane hosted by the Washington State Association of County Auditors (WSACA). Past conferences have always had cybersecurity as an area of focus, but this year was different. Cybersecurity was the primary focus of the conference, with an entire day and a half dedicated to the topic. We brought in experts from the Department of Homeland Security, military intelligence, and the FBI to share their knowledge, best practices, and tools with participants.

I was glad to see the focus on cybersecurity. The threat of cyberattacks to our local governments is real. We only have to look at the City of Atlanta to see the potential impact—three months and millions of dollars after hackers successfully attacked the city with ransomware, one-third of their software programs remained limited or completely offline. We can't afford to be unprepared.

As Thurston County's chief elections officer, I'm keenly aware of the need to protect the integrity and security of our elections from cyberattacks. That's why I chair the county's cybersecurity task force. We're working with the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the military to take advantage of the resources they have available for local governments.

We already have a number of safeguards in place to protect our elections from cyber threats. Did you know that our ballot tabulation equipment is never connected to the internet so votes can't be changed  or manipulate? This is one of many examples of how we're protecting your vote.

To learn more about the safeguards we have in place at every step of the elections process, I invite you to tour our Ballot Processing Center in Tumwater. You can set up a tour by contacting our Elections team at elections@co.thurston.wa.us or 360.786.5408.

My office will continue to work with county, state, and federal security experts to ensure we're making every effort to keep your vote safe. Your August 7 Primary voters' pamphlet, which we send out on July 11, includes more examples of how we're keeping your vote secure. 

June 30: Boat Tab Renewal Deadline
By: Jared Krause, Licensing & Recording Manager

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 30—and the days leading up to it—are a busy time in the Auditor's Office. Every year on June 30, all boat licenses across Washington expire, right in time for peak boating season. Why? State law.

Boat owners can renew their registration for the upcoming year (July 1 – June 30) any time after January 1 (as long as they've already renewed for the current year), but most renewals take place close to the deadline (see graph).

     

Since the summer is also a busy time for many other licensing and recording transactions, like marriages and document recording for property transactions, we experience our highest volume of customers during this time. If you want to avoid the possibility of waiting in line, renewing earlier in the year or with one of our eight local subagents is your best bet.

The weather is warming up and boat season is here. We hope you enjoy your time on the water safely with family, friends, and have a lot of fun.

If you have any questions about boat registrations, visit our Tab Renewal webpage, read our Boat Tab Renewal FAQ, or give our Licensing team a call at 360.786.5406. We're here to help you enjoy the beautiful waters of Thurston County!

 
2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report Published
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Last week our Financial Services team published Thurston County's 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or CAFR. The CAFR provides an in-depth look at county finances, including budgets, assets, fund balances, and a lot of other financial data.

While the Washington State Auditor's Office only requires counties to produce a Basic Financial Report, we in Thurston County go above and beyond to produce the CAFR. The report reflects our commitment to transparency and excellence in financial reporting.

Every year it's a big team effort to publish the report. So many talented people on our Financial Services team contribute their expertise in writing and compiling the data, analysis, and narrative for the report.

For the last 11 years the Government Financial Offices Association has recognized the quality of our work by awarding Thurston County with the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. We've submitted this year's CAFR to GFOA in hopes of receiving our 12th consecutive Certificate of Achievement!

We hope you have a chance to review the CAFR and get to know your county government better. If you have any questions, let us know!




​Cybersecurity Task Force
By: Mary Hall

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Earlier this year, I brought together leaders from across Thurston County government to create a Cybersecurity Task Force. Cyber threats are a grim reality for elections and local governments. It's critical to coordinate efforts countywide.

The task force includes key department directors, staff from my office, our IT department, the assistant county manager, and other elected officials. This group:

  • Develops an understanding of cybersecurity risks;
  • Identifies cybersecurity tools and resources; and
  • Recommends implementation strategies.

The county is only as strong as its weakest link. Every employee needs to be a cyber defender.

Our elections team and the county have already taken important steps to improve cybersecurity, and we must continue to adapt with evolving threats. I'm excited about the plans we're making to do all we can to prevent and prepare for a cyber attack: two-factor authentication, adding detection tools, and using the testing tools provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

No sector faces a bigger threat than elections. Our team in the Auditor's Office wants people to know their vote is safe. Over the coming weeks we'll share practical cybersecurity tips and security facts about elections in Thurston County on our social media. The same security facts are also included in the local voters' pamphlet.

Because the Department of Homeland Security designated elections systems as critical infrastructure, we have access to some incredible resources and tools through our partners in the federal government. Recently I've met with some of the leading experts in our region on cybersecurity to learn more about how to keep us safe.

We're only as strong as our weakest link—a coordinated approach is our best defense against cyber criminals. We'll be posting more on this topic in the weeks ahead.


Licensing Services Interruption
By: Mary Hall

Monday, August 27, 2018

Washington State License Plate

​Service interruptions are never fun, especially when they're out of your control.

Later this week, in-person vehicle and vessel licensing services will be unavailable at our office and the offices of our eight local subagents for four days. The Department of Licensing (DOL) will shut down licensing services statewide from August 31 through September 3 while they replace their outdated database.

Online licensing services will also be down beginning August 29 at 8:30 p.m. through September 3.

While the service interruption is less than ideal, the new DOL database will improve services and security for both customers and partners in the future. You can learn more about the system replacement and DOL's DRIVES project here.

To minimize the inconvenience to customers at our office we're letting people know well in advance, so they can plan around the interruption. If you have any questions, please contact our Licensing team at 360.786.5406.

The state's online voter registration will also be down during the licensing service interruption. Labor Day is a popular time for voter registration drives with the November General Election only a couple months away. We urge groups to use paper voter registration forms over the weekend to ensure eligible voters who want to register can do so.

If groups or individuals have any questions about voter registration drives, including the need for voter registration forms, feel free to contact our Elections team at 360.786.5408.


National Voter Registration Day 2018
By: Tillie Naputi-Pullar, Elections Manager

Friday, September 21, 2018

National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), taking place on Tuesday, September 25 this year, is one of the Auditor's Elections team's favorite activities. Voter registration is the key to participating in our democracy and on NVRD we get to partner with terrific organizations and schools to register as many voters as possible. It doesn't get much better than that!

This year we have a lot of fun activities planned, including the second annual Auditor's Challenge, where local high schools and colleges compete against each other to register the largest percentage of their student body. The winning schools receive a traveling trophy from our office. We'll also be hosting voter registration drives throughout Thurston County.

We've had a lot of success on NVRD with the help of so many great partners in the community. In the last three years, we've registered 1,944 new voters during the week of NVRD. This year we hope to add to that total with your help.

Below you'll find information about participating in NVRD and hosting a voter registration drive. We hope you'll join us next week in celebrating one of our favorite days of the year!

What You Need to Host an Awesome Voter Registration Drive!

National Voter Registration Day, founded in 2012, is a nationwide effort by community organizations, public agencies, schools, and individuals, aimed at registering citizens to vote! Since 2012, over 750,000 people have registered to vote through NVRD efforts.

Thurston County Elections is teaming up with schools across the county, local businesses, and nonpartisan nonprofits to spread the word and to get citizens registered! Click here for a comprehensive list of everything you need to know to host your own Registration Drive.

Want to have the best registration drive ever? Make sure to have these items at your table.


Voter registration forms
You may pick these up at the Thurston County Auditor's Office, or from the Office of the Secretary of State. You may also help people register online at MyVote.wa.gov.

Pens
Grab a handful of pens (or swing by the Elections Office and grab some to give out to new voters) and get registering! A clipboard (or five) may also be handy, so people can fill out the forms freely and not take up table space at your event.

Swag
Everyone loves free stuff. Thankfully, the Elections Division has you covered! Come pick up a bag of giveaway items, like buttons, pens, rulers, bookmarks or coasters. We even have coloring books for the younger future voters!

Election Information
Getting them registered is only half of it! Informing your newly registered voters of important dates and deadlines is critical to keep them active and engaged in the process! You may design your own, or download this Election at a Glance handout, which has valuable information about voting in the 2018 General Election.

Have questions? Please refer to our Registration Drive Brochure or give us a call at 360.786.5408


Reconciling to Zero
By: Mary Hall

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

​The 2018 Midterm Election is now in the rearview mirror—at least here in Thurston County—and I want to take some time to thank my Elections team.

We saw a dramatic increase in turnout compared to the last midterm in 2014, making this a midterm election with near presidential election turnout. In total, our Elections team counted 126,031, just 10,000 ballots less than the 2016 Presidential Election and more than 40,000 ballots higher than the last midterm election in 2014. 


More impressive—the team was able to reconcile ballots to 0, which means every ballot that came into our possession through drop boxes and the post office were accounted for in the final tally.

It may sound easy, but anytime you have 126,031 of anything passing through multiple steps and hands, it's an impressive feat. It also reflects the outstanding processes and procedures our team has in place to ensure every valid ballot is counted.

So thank you to our amazing Election team and thank you to Thurston County voters for turning out in such high numbers for the 2018 Midterm Election—this is what democracy is all about!


Local Licensing Subagents
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Whether it's voting, recorded documents online, or tab renewals, offering easy access to our office's services is a top priority. That's why we contract with eight local subagencies across Thurston County to provide convenient access for all your licensing needs.

Each of our eight licensing subagencies provide a full suite of vehicle and vessel licensing services, including car tabs, boat tabs, and title transactions. Many of our subagencies also provide Quick Title service for customers who need a quick turnaround on their lost titles.

Did you know you can renew online and pick up your tabs at the nearest subagent?

You can find a map and full list of our subagents below (* Quick Title Service available):


Local Licensing Subagents
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Whether it's voting, recorded documents online, or tab renewals, offering easy access to our office's services is a top priority. That's why we contract with eight local subagencies across Thurston County to provide convenient access for all your licensing needs.

Each of our eight licensing subagencies provide a full suite of vehicle and vessel licensing services, including car tabs, boat tabs, and title transactions. Many of our subagencies also provide Quick Title service for customers who need a quick turnaround on their lost titles.

Did you know you can renew online and pick up your tabs at the nearest subagent?

You can find a map and full list of our subagents below (* Quick Title Service available):



Dedicated Thurston County Staff Carry Out Election Despite Historic Snow Storm
By: Mary Hall

Monday, March 4, 2019

While most people were listening to the dreadful forecast and making grocery lists to ensure they had what they needed while they were snowbound, the Auditor and Thurston County elections department were working with Emergency Management to ensure the February 12 Special Election went on without a snag.

There is no provision in state law that allows us to delay an election for any reason, including a massive snow storm. That means, that despite the snow, the election must go on.

Before the first round of the snowstorm hit, the Auditor's Office began warning voters about the impacts the weather was going to have on their ability to vote. Turning in your ballots early through the mail or using a drop box was the best way to ensure your vote counts.About 18 inches of snow fell in Thurston County the weekend before Election Day. The snow preceding the special election was the largest in Thurston County since the early 1970s.

Everyone in the elections department made it into work, even if they had to get a ride from someone who had a vehicle that could brave the snow. I am so proud of my staff, they had the dedication that it took to get here and make sure the work got done.

Despite the harsh weather, the turnout for the election (35 percent) was similar other special elections, if not a bit higher.

On Election Night, Elections staff were stationed at every ballot box that was opened throughout the county to ensure they were closed promptly at 8 p.m. Election staff teamed up with the Thurston County's Search and Rescue Team to make sure they could get to all ballot boxes to bring back the ballots.

The auditor's elections staff collected 934 ballots from 10 ballot boxes.  Because of road closures, election staff had not been able to go out the night before.

The historic snow also led to power outages across the county, which in turn took down the county's internet services and website. The Thurston County Auditor's office used their COOP plan and switched over to their backup website. They were able to quickly get back online in a limited fashion.

Voters could access the auditor's website and find information about the Tanglewilde Parks and Recreation District and Yelm Community Schools levy elections. They could find election statistics, voter pamphlets for both elections, and a sample ballot. There was also a link to the state's My Vote system where voters could download a ballot, if they needed a replacement ballot.

We've put a lot of thought into and practiced how we deal with situations like severe weather conditions and flooding. Our continuation of operations planning and preparation paid off due to the hard work and dedication of the elections team in partnership with emergency management. I also want to give a huge shout out to Public Works and Emergency Management to helping ensure a successful election night.

How county employees got paid when the power went out and what that taught us about emergency planning
By: Mary Hall

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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Leaders from across Thurston County recently took part in a multi-day exercise to outline how our community would come back from a 9.0 Cascadia event earthquake.

The exercise underlined the need for plans that help us carry out government functions, like paying county workers, even if the power goes out.

Payroll staff with the Thurston County Auditor's office went through their own real-world exercise when the power went out on the day they were scheduled to run payroll late last September. Staff from all of the divisions in the Auditor's Office – Elections, Licensing and Recording and Financial Services – continued working during the blackout. The experience of our payroll staff is an excellent illustration of why continuation of operations plans (COOP) are important.

Payroll staff in the Financial Services division of the Auditor's Office process paychecks for every one of the 1,200 county staff. So when the power went out, they leapt into action and executed a plan that they'd written specifically for such an instance.

Their COOP guides various functions of the Auditor's office under a broad range of emergency situations, including losing power. A good COOP includes elements like how an office can continue to provide essential functions (like completing payroll) and what facilities are available to complete these functions.

"The first thing we did was pickup and move our work out to the county's emergency management office," said Cheryl Rischel, payroll business applications administrator. But it turns out that once they reached the emergency management office eight miles away, the computer that was available to them did not have authorization for the software they needed to process payroll.

The payroll process includes compiling a large data file and then uploading that file to the county's bank to authorize direct deposits by the end of the day.

"This was a good opportunity for us to run through our COOP and see what would actually work," said Sue Bye, payroll accounting assistant. "This was just the power going out at the courthouse. In an emergency like an earthquake there wouldn't have even been enough room for us out at emergency services."

Sue and Cheryl ended up coming back to the dark courthouse and locating a laptop in the treasurer's office (which did have emergency power and Wi-Fi) to upload the file.

The episode was not only an example of dedicated public servants finding solutions, but also a testament to COOPs and how they work. It isn't just about writing the plan, but also improving on it when the opportunity arises. "This was a great way for us to iron out the wrinkles in our COOP and make it better," Bye said.

Since the power outage last fall, the payroll COOP has evolved. Instead of going to the emergency management, financial staff will head to a computer lab in another nearby county building that would have emergency power. "In an emergency, making sure county employees' payroll is taken care of while they are responding is important," Rischel said. "By writing and updating our COOP plan, we can keep the county's financial services, including payroll and accounts payable, operating."

How the legislature impacted the Thurston County Auditor's office this year
By: Mary Hall

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

20190510_195244.jpgOne of the great things about being the Auditor in Thurston County is that I serve our state's capital city. During session I speak to legislators about bills county auditors support. When I testify, I speak to the interests of the voters I represent. I also provide insight into the day-to-day operations in my office.

Here are a few highlights from this year's session:

Presidential primary

For the first time ever, all of the presidential delegates for the two major parties in our state will be chosen through a direct public primary next spring. Over 100 years after primaries first began, Washington voters will have a direct hand in the presidential nomination process.

The state legislature passed SB 5273 to change some provisions of the primary law (including moving the date to the second Tuesday in March). The 2020 presidential primary will be on March 10.

I'm excited the legislature chose to move the date earlier. It will increase the importance of Washington State, bring candidates to our state and make our votes more meaningful.

The more relevant and important we can make our primary in the presidential landscape, the more likely we are to see increased engagement in the presidential primary election. This is a good thing.

Address confidentiality for property records

Probably the most meaningful bill for me this year was a measure to assist in protecting survivors of domestic violence and criminal justice employees who have been threatened or harassed because of their work. 

As a county auditor, I can protect voter registration records and marriage records, but I can't protect land records when Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) participants want to buy a home.

HB 1643 requires the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) to contract with the Office of Civil Legal Aid to provide assistance to those needing help shielding their property records to keep their address private. More needs to be done, but this is a start.

I lost a sister to domestic violence. I will continue working for better ways to protect survivors' addresses and property records to ensure they stay safe.

Prepaid postage

After the last-minute decision a year ago to fund postage for ballots, the state legislature enshrined that decision by passing a bill that requires all ballot return envelopes to include prepaid postage. Paying for postage on ballots removes another barrier to voting and ensures consistent handling of ballots in counties with overlapping congressional and legislative districts.

The Native American Voting Rights Act

At the same time the Thurston County Auditor's Office was opening a new drop box for the Nisqually Tribe last fall, Native American voters in North Dakota were being disenfranchised.

In reaction to those efforts, Senator John McCoy proposed the Native American Voting Rights Act. This bill will ensure that the mass disenfranchisement we've seen in other states does not happen here. The bill will expand ballot drop box locations and voter registration on tribal lands. It also allows for nontraditional residential addresses and the use of tribal identification for voter registration.

Election funding for counties

One thing we didn't accomplish was to deal with how state and local governments pay for their elections. Currently, all levels of local government reimburse the county for the prorated cost of their elections. But the state of Washington only pitches in for their costs of elections during odd years. This means when congressional and state-level elections are held your county government is left to pick up the tab.

Thurston County paid almost $600,000 for the state's share of state and federal elections in 2018! That's money we could have spent on cybersecurity, social programs, law and justice, or environmental protection.

Two bills would have tackled this disparity (HB 1291 and SB 5073). I and many other county auditors testified in support of these bills, but neither moved after passing out of their policy committees.

Local governments now face the looming threat of cyberattacks. We know that every penny we save is a penny we can spend keeping our communities safe from cyberattacks. We have to invest in cybersecurity tools and we have to pay for elections.

This threat has been underlined by the support of our local congressional delegation for HR 2130 – the State Cyber Resiliency Act. I was glad to see Rep. Denny Heck joined Rep. Derek Kilmer in supporting this effort to point more resources to local governments. Leaving elections underfunded in Washington State while election administrators are preparing against cyberattacks is a contradiction we need to deal with.

Paying for both elections and cybersecurity protection is proving to be a challenge. We'll work on these bills again next year. Wish me luck.

Ballots are in the mail, let us know if you need one!
By: Mary Hall

Friday, July 19, 2019

​Thurston County Elections mailed nearly 150,000 ballots on July 17 for the August 6 primary election. About 30,000 registered voters will not receive a primary ballot because they don't have a race or measure in the election. This is largely the Tumwater, Rainier, and Griffin School districts.

Only races that have more than two candidates file for office are on the primary ballot. If two candidates or less file for office, you won't see those races on the ballot until the general election. Visit ThurstonVotes.org to see what districts are on the August ballot.

If you have a primary and don't receive your ballot by July 24, please call 360.786.5408 and let us know!

Not registered to vote? You can register remotely up to 8 days before the election online, or through the Department of Licensing. Or you can register in our office up to 8:00pm on Election Day. Don't procrastinate and risk long lines.

Not yet 18? You can now pre-register if you're 16 or 17 and we'll automatically send you a ballot when you turn 18!

The Secretary of State just rolled out a new voter registration and election management system called VoteWA. All counties are required to use this new system.

While we expect this to be a great system, it has not yet been tested in all counties end to end. Counties across the state are working through challenges and are slowly getting use to the new system. Since we couldn't test it fully before the state had to go live, we don't know what we may encounter.

So, if you see anything of concern during this election, please tell us as soon as possible so we can get it right in the new system.

​Five lessons we learned from offering passport services
By: Mary Hall

Monday, July 22, 2019

It's been over eight months since we started offering passport services at the Thurston County Auditor's Office. This seems like a good time to take stock and see how this new service is coming along.

We're seeing more and more people come into our office every month to fill out and drop off their passport application packets. We've been averaging over 150 applications each month, but in April we almost hit 250 applications. A new record!

Here are a few things we've learned along the way:

We don't do passport renewals, but we can do photos for your renewals!

While we can't take your paperwork if you're renewing your passport (you can take care of that through the mail), we can help you with your renewal.

To process your passport renewal, the State Department is particular about the photo you submit. There are size and color requirements. If this sounds daunting, just come down to our office and we can take care of the photo for you!

Five days a week, all day long!

We're the only place in Thurston County where you can apply for your passport anytime during the work week. The passport application process can be long, and it is hard to carve out time during the week. We are open every weekday between 8 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (except for the first Wednesday of the month, when we open at 9 a.m.).

Come prepared!

Because of federal requirements, the Auditor's passport processing agents send your payment directly to U.S. Department of State. And, the federal government does not accept payment by cash or card. Auditor staff cannot process application packets without a check, money order or cashier's check. So, when you come to our office, make sure you bring proper payment.

The deadline is coming!

Passports aren't just for your over-seas trips anymore.

In October 2021 2020 (due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the REAL ID deadline was delayed), the REAL ID law will go into effect for Washington State. This means that to get into a federal building or board a plane for domestic travel, you will need a specific kind of ID. The two kinds of IDs that will work for Washingtonians will be an enhanced driver's license or a passport.

Our great staff make it happen!

When we made the decision to offer passport services last year, we knew that our front-line staff would feel the pinch. Our customer service staff in Licensing and Recording already help dozens of people each day who are applying for marriage licenses, renewing car tabs or searching for land records, among other services.

Finding a way to also offer passport services took a lot of conversations, planning and training.

Each one of our front-line staff had to complete six hours of training. When you're focused on serving people coming through the door all day, it is hard to carve out six hours to train on a new service. But by juggling hours and covering for each other, we were all able to get up to speed.

When you come to the Auditor's office, you can still expect the same high-quality customer service and expertise that you've come to expect. 

Why the Universal Postal Union is vital to military and overseas voters
By: Mary Hall

Friday, September 13, 2019

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During every election, a portion of the ballots we mail go overseas. But if the United States pulls out of an international treaty, getting those ballots to voters and back to us might become a difficult task.

Our entire system of making sure overseas voters receive their ballots depends on an international agreement that most of us have never heard of, the Universal Postal Union (UPU). For nearly 150 years, most of the world has been connected by the UPU. It ensures every nation will deliver mail from other countries.

That interconnected network of postal systems managed by the UPU is vitally important to our overseas voters.

The 1980 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires local election officials like me to send ballots to overseas voters for federal elections. We have a similar law in Washington for state and local elections.

In Thurston County, these ballots largely go to servicemembers and their families. The military community is a large part of Thurston County, with a quarter of the 26,000 servicemembers stationed at Joint Base Lewis McCord making their homes here. When they are stationed overseas, it is our job to make sure their ballots follow them.

Because overseas voters need more time to receive and return their ballots, we send these ballots 45 days before we send out ballots to local voters. In a countywide election, we mail over 8,000 overseas ballots.

And despite that, some of our voters still don't have time to get their ballots back to us by Election Day. I've even had to work with our congressional delegation to arrange for a diplomatic pouch to get a ballot back in time!

My staff works one-on-one with voters to ensure they can download their ballots if necessary, but not all overseas voters have access to reliable technology.

Unfortunately, the United States' involvement in this century-old international treaty is at risk, which in turn puts our overseas service-members' votes at risk.

The only alternative to the simple and effective UPU compact would be a series of bilateral agreements with each of the almost 200 countries. Negotiating these agreements would be a complicated process and much more expensive than continuing with the current system. At worst, these one-on-one agreements would complicate the current simple system of international mail.

Building as much dependability as possible into the system is vital when time of the essence. Any delay could prevent a ballot from being received in time to be counted.

Overseas voters deserve to have their voices heard and they depend on UPU to make that happen.

Here is more information on this important topic:

This video explains how important and how intricate the UPU really is. Replacing this complicated and interwoven system with one-on-one agreements would take years. In the meantime, the votes of our overseas citizens would unnecessarily be threatened.

Here is an article that gives specific information about how the UPU protects military voters and families.

This year's National Voter Registration Day in Thurston County is going to be bigger than ever!
By: Mary Hall

Friday, September 20, 2019

​Last year, the efforts of the Auditor's Office, local colleges and high schools, and civics-oriented organizations in Thurston County brought in over 900 new or updated registrations.

We are continuing the tradition of the Auditor's Cup Challenge this year. The Auditor's Cup is a friendly competition between local high schools and colleges. The school that registers the high percentage of their student body wins the competition and gets to keep the Auditor's Cup traveling trophy until the next year.

The current holders of the Auditor's Cup are South Puget Sound Community College and Tumwater High School. This year the competition is even tougher, with 5 high schools participating and all three Thurston County colleges in the ring.

Who will prevail? Will Tumwater HS and SPSCC hold onto their title or will another school come in with a win? Stay tuned to find out.

Want to participate with your school or organization? Contact Callie Meleedy, Voter Outreach Coordinator, at 360.786.5408.

Even an SUV can't stop our ballot drop boxes
By: Mary Hall

Friday, October 11, 2019

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During the August primary election, a man on a rampage (as described by the police) knocked one of our ballot drop boxes off its base. He drove his SUV into police cars, an emergency gate and, lastly, the ballot drop box in the Lacey City Hall parking lot.

Once he drove on top of the drop box, he couldn't drive back off. High centered on top of the drop box, police were able to quickly arrest him.

You would think our drop box would be useless after abuse like that! But you'd be wrong.

Early in the morning city staff quickly repositioned and reattached the drop box to the ground. When our elections staff inspected the box, they found a scratch and tire tread marks but no real damage.

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The strength of that drop box shows how important it is to us that we get your ballot on election day. The 28 drop boxes across Thurston County are the backbone of our ballot return system.

The Lacey City Hall drop box was built by a local company called Vote Armor. Like many of the other manufacturers we've worked with, Vote Armor has modified their designs over time. Their boxes ensure ballots are safe from wayward SUVs, stay dry and are secure.

Even though postage is paid on your ballot, more than half of Thurston County voters continue to use drop boxes. I use the drop box by the Lacey Post Office. It's convenient to my commute and I know that once my ballot is in the box, it will be counted. It also saves your tax dollars.

Drop boxes remain the most reliable way to make sure your ballot makes it to our processing center. The U.S. Post Office is incredibly reliable. But if you're waiting until the last few days before the election to return your ballot, you should know that our mail in Thurston County is first routed up to Seattle for processing before its delivered to us. This can delay your ballot getting a postmark by election day.

So, remember when you're returning your ballot to us, once it's in a drop box, even a rampaging SUV driver won't stop it from getting to us.

Remote options for Auditor services (updated 11/17/2020)
By: Mary Hall

Monday, March 2, 2020


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Updated 11/17/2020:

With the risk of COVID-19 increasing in Washington State, we want to share remote options for doing business at the Thurston County Auditor's Office.

Passports

  • The Thurston County Auditor's Office has suspend all passport services indefinitely. More information here.

Elections
Licensing
  • Tab renewals can be processed online with the state Department of Licensing. We can mail your tabs to you at no extra charge.

  • Licensing subagents continue to serve customers. More information on their hours of operations and services can be found here.

  • Marriage licenses can also be accessed through the mail. More information is available here.

  • If you have questions about licensing, please call 360.786.5406 or email licensing@co.thurston.wa.us.
Recording
  • You can also E-Record documents. More information is available here (under "Electronic Document Recording").
An after-hours drop box is available at the courthouse in the roundabout. Label your package "Auditor." Please note that after-hours mail will be delivered to our office on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Legal Service Options:

  • Mail
  • Call 360.786.5405 to schedule a time and place to meet.

If you are sick, please stay home, rest and remember to:

  • Wear a mask

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects (for example, TV remotes and computers).
Get licensing services in your community
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, March 12, 2020

​For the third year, we're seeing the benefit of equalizing vehicle licensing fees on several small businesses that partner with us.

We call these small local businesses "subagents."

Eight subagents across the county license vehicles, just like our office at the county courthouse. If you used a subagent before 2015, you paid a slightly higher price for the convenience.

That changed when the legislature passed ESHB 1129 equalizing fees between our office and subagents. So now, no matter where you go, you pay the same.

And since then, Thurston County residents showed us that they preferred the convenience of the subagents. This chart shows a significant change in the years after equalization.

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In 2017, the revenue collected by subagents increased considerably. While the transactions moving through the Auditor's Office leveled off, our revenue has stayed the same. But, the percentage of revenue collected by subagents is increasing.

When you choose a subagent, you support your community and local business. A portion of what you pay stays in the community as wages, rent and other benefits.

You can find a list of subagents throughout Thurston County here.


Continuity of Operations Planning pays off
By: Mary Hall

Thursday, April 2, 2020

​When I took office in 2013, one of the first things I did was ask staff to develop Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP).  All four of our divisions have either written COOPs or a basic framework to get them through critical functions. We don't write plans and leave them on a shelf. We practice and update our plans at least yearly.

How does Auditor's Office function after an earthquake, during a power outage, or if we close our doors to the public in a pandemic?

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As we developed our COOP, we asked these questions and practiced our response so we could be prepared to provide essential services in an emergency.

In the Elections Division, we can't pack up our work and wait for the lights to come on. We must conduct elections, and count ballots by a deadline.

During the 2016 Presidential Election we lost power at our Voting Center on election night. It took staff less than five minutes to implement our COOP and we kept serving voters. Fortunately, the power came back on in about 15 minutes.

During a power outage in 2018, our Financial Services team had to make sure 1,200 county employees got paid – and they did.

In the same outage, our Licensing & Recording staff continued issuing marriage applications, recording documents and processing auto tabs and the Elections team was registering voters. Right now, almost all staff are working from home with connectivity into their workstations.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we've made significant changes to how we work in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • We are working closely with our customers, county partners and title companies to record land transactions remotely.
  • We are processing vehicle and boat renewals online and by mail and mailing tabs to customers at no extra charge.

  • We are processing voter registrations through an online portal and mail.
  • Almost my entire financial services team, the people who ensure staff get paid, pay our bills and keep an eye on our county budget, are working remotely.
 You can't plan for every disaster. But all situations have similarities. We've had a few challenges the last few weeks responding to the pandemic but we've overcome. With continuity planning being at the center of our thinking for years, we're working smarter now during this emergency because we were able to plan and practice in quieter times.

While our services may be virtual right now, we're still here to serve you.





Read the Thurston County Auditor Community Report
By: Mary Hall

Friday, April 17, 2020


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The Thurston County Auditor's Office works diligently to ensure open elections, exceptional service, financial integrity, accountability and transparency.  We produce a Community Report to give you an update on how we are doing and what advances we've made as an office. 

You can find this report on our website and distributed throughout Thurston County. If you would like a print copy, just email tcauditor@co.thurston.wa.us.

In the past two years, we have:

  • Successfully advocated to expand voting rights;
  • Introduced Passport services;
  • Launched a county-wide Cybersecurity Taskforce;
  • Continued providing excellent financial oversight by winning our 12th (and now 13th!) straight Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR); and
  • Ensured Thurston County's fourth straight clean audit from the State Auditor's Office.
 I hope you enjoy this report and that it helps you better understand how your local government serves you.


Our backup elections website is ready
By: Mary Hall

Monday, April 27, 2020

If the Thurston County Auditor's website is knocked offline at any point during an election, a backup elections website is ready.

This ensures that up-to-date election information is available, even if our primary website fails or is compromised.

The historic snowstorm in 2019 gave us a brief opportunity to show how this backup website would work. When our servers were knocked out in the massive snowstorm during a special election, we briefly used the backup website. The backup website is hosted on a remote secure server that is separate from the county's primary webserver.

Local governments, especially elections offices, are facing an increased threat from cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns. Recently in Oregon, Tillamook County's website was taken offline for more than a week by a ransomware attack.

So, we're letting you know what this website will look like in case we are under cyberattack. It will be vital that voters and media know where they can get trusted information.

If our main website goes down, we will be able to get back online in a limited fashion at thurstonvotes.org and thurstonauditor.org. Old bookmarks to the auditor's website (hosted at thurstoncountywa.gov) would not be useable until after county web services are back online.

Here is an example of what our backup website would look like:

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Visitors will find basic information needed for an election, like election statistics, voter pamphlets, and a sample ballot. If our site went down on election night you would find results on this page as well.

To respond to the increased risk of cyberattacks, we launched the Thurston County Cybersecurity Forum in 2018.  The forum brings together resources and recommends strategies. The task force includes key department directors, staff from my office, our IT department, the assistant county manager, and other elected officials.

Even if our website is shut down, our elections are safe from hacking. Our tabulation systems are not connected to the internet and we take strong physical measures to protect the integrity of our system. Most importantly, elections in Washington State are conducted using paper ballots. That gives us a hardcopy record of everyone's votes that cannot be manipulated.

But it is vital that my office always be able to communicate accurate elections information, even if a cyberattack takes us offline. Rest assured, we are taking every precaution and creating a back-up system to ensure you can always find the information you're looking for.  


How we address justice and equity
By: Mary Hall

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Over the last week we've gotten questions about how the Auditor's Office is tackling important issues brought up during recent protests. While I take these issues seriously, the Auditor's Office has a narrow purview. For more context, I wanted to share the message we've been sending to people who have inquired with us. 


Thank you for your message. As a local elected official, I think it is important for people to get answers from their government. This is especially true now as we obviously have so much important work ahead of us.  
 
The Auditor's Office does not have operational oversight over law enforcement. While my office does have financial oversight for county offices and departments, I don't make policy decisions on how budgets are set or spent. Budgets are set for the Sheriff by the board of county commissioners. I can assure you that I give each office and department the same level of scrutiny regarding their financial controls. To that end, I oversee not only the financial controls of the Sheriff's Department (which includes both patrol and jail divisions), but also the Prosecutor's Office, Courts, Public Defense and Pretrial Services. I also don't have any authority outside of Thurston County government. 
 
Thurston County has received four clean audits in a row from the state Auditor's Office. This clean financial record means that each part of the county is spending public funds as intended and are safeguarding taxpayer dollars. Again, this is the only role I have authority over with regard to the Sheriff's department.   
 
I care deeply about equity and removing systemic barriers. As Auditor, I am also the Chief Elections Official for the county. In that role I have worked to pass legislation to expand voting rights. Same day voter registration, automatic voter registration and pre-registration are all tools that I helped pass out of the legislature. Each of these broadens the vote to people who have been traditionally shut out.   
 
For the last few years, I've been championing bills that would automatically restore voting rights for people as soon they are out of prison. The Secretary of State's Office and the Department of Corrections would also be required to compare felon lists monthly. Currently they just compare the lists twice a year, which leads to big injustices.  
 
I recently helped a voter restore their rights just in time to vote. The voter was recently released from state supervision, but their voter registration had been rejected several times by the Secretary of State's Office. The out of date list was preventing their registration from going forward. This bureaucratic slip-up almost unfairly took away the right of this person to vote.  
 
I will continue working hard on these issues, but I also admit that I don't have all the answers. If you have any suggestions how my office can address issues of justice and equity, please don't hesitate to reach out. 
 
Mary Hall 
Thurston County Auditor 



When you read the Voters’ Pamphlet, please keep in mind the rules that govern candidates' statements
By: Mary Hall

Monday, July 6, 2020

When I committed to publishing a statement for every candidate that was on your ballot, I never considered that some would contain hate speech that I couldn’t control. Local Voter Pamphlet rules allow me to establish Administrative Rules that require the statements to be about the candidate themself. They can’t attack their opponents. If they don’t comply with my administrative rules, I can reject the statements, which I have done 

This is not the same case for candidates that fall under the state voter pamphlet rules. So when you open your Voters’ Pamphlet this year, you may see candidate statements that contain offensive language and content. Some were very hard for me to read. But I had a choice. I could exclude all federal and state candidates and include only Commissioner and Superior candidates, or print the states candidates as submitted and approved by the Office of the Secretary of State. Due to the inconsistency of the laws between the local voters pamphlets and the state voters pamphlet I could not reject statements from state candidates. 
 
The association of county auditors (WSACA) and the OSOS are working together to better align the rules. This will require changes to state law. Personally I feel the candidates should be required to discuss their qualifications and themselves. This is a taxpayer funded publication and I think we should adopt more of the Local Voter Pamphlet rules for all candidates, state and local. I’ll be working towards that goal with my fellow Auditor and the Secretary of States office  in the next legislative session. 


ERecording kept us moving through the shut down
By: Mary Hall

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

When we closed our doors at the beginning the pandemic, whad to come up with new ways to serve our customers. Every one of our services is essential, so we had to figure out some way to fulfill our mission with our doors closed. 
 
One such system, luckily, was all ready to go.   
 
Document recording has historically been a manual service. Recording is a legal process of putting property documents into the official records at the county. You are probably familiar with the process if you’ve ever bought a house. Deeds, easements, plats and other legal documents are all “recorded” or filed with the Auditor’s Office. 
 
We began offering eRecording documents a few years agoUploading legal documents to a secure portal is in the end more convenient, but despite the deep roots of the recording industry, it  was slowly catching on. Even up to the day we closed to the public, we' get document runners in our lobby with stacks of papers to record. 
 
Over three years since we started offering eRecording, our online recording rate has increased from 40 to 56 percent. And in the three months since we closed our doors, eRecording jumped up to 85 percentThe four title companies that file the bulk of documents with our office have switched to entirely eRecording. 

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During the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, moving recording transactions online kept us moving. As we reopen, eRecording will continue to protect public health by serving customers  outside of our lobby.   
 
Even before the pandemic, we were encouraging our customers to take advantage of our remote options because of our cramped quarters and limited parking at the courthouse. But because of the physically distancing needs in a pandemic, this is even more true. 
 
We have also moved our entire elections operation off site and established a drive through voter services model for the next two elections. 
 
Please take advantage of our remote services in recording, licensing and elections that are listed here. If you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to call or email us. 



How we are addressing concerns about USPS and the next election
By: Mary Hall

Monday, August 17, 2020

We have heard concerns over the last few days from our voters regarding the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to handle sending and returning ballots. We share your concerns.  
 
Because of recent changes announced by the USPS, our outgoing ballot delivery may slow down. To minimize the delay, we are planning to mail our ballots earlier. Normally, we mail our ballots two days earlier than the statutory deadlineFor the November election wwill mail ballots five days earlier, on October 9th.
 
Despite this change, once you return your ballot, it is considered first class mail and should not return to us slower than usual. However, this statement comes with a few cautions: 
 
  • It will be important that voters return their ballots earlier, preferably in an election ballot  drop box.  Thurston County has 29 ballot drop boxes, the highest number of drop boxes per capita of any county in Washington State. Drop boxes ensure your ballot is received directly by elections workers.  
  • If you want to find the drop box closest to you, see this map on our website.
  • Any delayed mail makes it urgent that voters return their ballots as soon as possible after they receive them and well before election day. Do not wait to vote.  Vote early!   
  • If you do not receive your ballot by October 19th, please call 360.786.5408 or email elections@co.thurston.wa.us.Thurston County Elections staff will work directly with you to ensure you get a ballot. 
Thurston County has an amazing and committed elections team that are working hard to ensure that everyone’s vote is counted. 



A deeper look at our amazing voter registration numbers
By: Mary Hall

Monday, November 2, 2020

Last week Thurston County set a record by registering our 200,000th Voter. We wanted to take a look back at recent years in voter registration between the primary and general elections.  
 
This year’s new registrations between the Primary and General elections has certainly been historic! 

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So much has changed in recent years.  
 
There are several factors that contributed to our high voter registration numbers this year: 
 
 The Democracy package passed in 2018 make it easier to voter than ever. 
  • Eliminating registration deadlines 
  • Automatic registration at the state Department of Licensing 
  • Online voter registration since 2013 
We had a $50,000 voter outreach budget this year and it obviously paid off. I’ve never had an outreach budget before. 
  
I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been able to do! 
 



We will count every vote
By: Mary Hall

Friday, November 6, 2020

For election officials, November 3 is a big day. 
  
But November 24 is even bigger.  
  
Thats the day we will certify election results. And the election is officially over. The time between election day and certification day gives us time to make sure we've allowed voters to cure signature issues and for us to count every valid vote. 
  
If you're interested in watching us work all the way up to Certification, you can by tuning into our live steams here. 
  
There are three main reason we may tabulate a vote after November 3: 
  
  • Ballots post marked by November 3 are valid if they’re received up to the day of certificationMost of these late ballots are from military voters stationed overseas or young adults away at college. We send these ballots weeks before local ballots. But any ballot post marked by November 3 is valid and counted, as long as we get it by November 23. 
  • Voters can return their ballot in any drop box across the state. We receive boxes of valid Thurston County ballots from counties across the state. Especially counties with large colleges/universities. Plus we have universal registration in Washington State. This means voters can register in any county in the state and receive a ballot for the county they live in. For example, we registered a lot of Pierce County military voters on election day and issued them Pierce County ballots. 
  • Voters have the opportunity to cure signature discrepancies. We have stringent signature rules in Washington State, but we also allow people to update their signature if it changes. 
  
Washington law does not disenfranchise any voter because the mail was slow or their signature changed. 
  
We will also hold three Canvassing Board meetings after the election. These open, public meetings will be livestreamed to allow for easy access. You will be able to see the chair of the county commission,  the prosecuting attorney and myself conduct a number of important tasks: 
  • Determine the validity of provisional ballots 
  • Determine voter intent 
  • Rule on the validity of late ballots 
  • Be the final word on signature discrepancies and challenged ballots. 
You can find the canvassing board schedule here. We’ll provide more information on live streaming soon. 
 
Lastly, after election day we conducted a post-election audit. During the post-election audit we counted ballots from random precincts and races. We then compared the vote totals from our tabulators to a hand count of those ballots. They matched exactly. 
 
I want to congratulate all Thurston County voters. By any measure, this has been a historic election. But we’re not done yet. Please be patient as we continue our work. You can follow along as we get closer to certification on November 24.