Smartphone Voting is Here (and King County is the First to Get It)

  Community Interest

by Devin Chicras

Hailed as “a historic moment for American democracy“, as of today, 1.2 million voters in King County can pull out our smartphones and vote in an election – the first time anywhere in the United States.

The election is specifically for King Conservation District (KCD)’s Board of Supervisors – an election previously held independently by KCD (not King County Elections) which was fraught with controversy last year and resulted in only 0.29% total turnout:

The King Conservation District is one of 45 conservation districts in Washington. The public agency has a budget of $7 million and works on a range of land management issues, from testing soil quality to educating landowners and other state agencies to providing technical assistance on land management practices. The board collects a per-property fee from landowners in most of King County and all of the county’s unincorporated areas. The annual fee ranges from $7.70 to $10 per property, according to the board’s 2017 annual report.

…instead of mailing all of the ballots, the agency required that interested voters request a ballot be mailed to them or vote in person. This process had its own problems. The website voters needed to use to request ballots was malfunctioning up until the day elections started on March 18th and a typo on the ballots wrongly instructed voters that they had until April 4 to vote even though the deadline was March 29.

“Less Than 4,000 People Voted in This Year’s King Conservation District Election, but Here’s Who Won” by Lester Black, The Stranger
King Conservation District Website

KCD is led by an all-volunteer Board of Supervisors consisting of two members appointed by the Washington State Conservation Commission and three that are elected by the public in the first quarter of each year.

According to KCD’s website, “Board members contribute local perspectives on important natural resource management and conservation issues, seek feedback about conservation programs from District residents, set KCD policy, and direct KCD’s work plan and budget.” Also, “The Board of Supervisors holds regularly scheduled meetings the second Monday of every month in 2020 at KCD’s office (800 SW 39th St, Suite 150, Renton, WA 98057) unless otherwise noted.”

For this election, KCD partnered with King County Elections, Democracy Live, and Tusk Philanthropies to “ensure an accessible election for all registered voters in our service area”.

King Conservation District Board of Supervisors 2020 Election Website
King Conservation District Board of Supervisors 2020 Election Website

To vote, first log onto the Democracy Live portal to access and mark your ballot. All you need is your name and birthdate. Next, you can submit your ballot in one of these four ways:

1) Online

“Voters may return ballots electronically through the online ballot marking system. Ballots received through the electronic system on or before 8.p.m. on February 11, 2020 will be eligible. Ballots received through this method will be printed at King County Elections and counted.”

2) By Mail

“Voters may print and mail the ballots to King County Elections, 919 SW Grady Way, Suite 200, Renton, WA 98057. Mailed ballots with a postmark no later than February 11, 2020 will be eligible.”

3) Drop Box

“Voters may print and drop their ballots at any 1 of 70 King County Election ballot drop boxes across King County (view map). Ballots returned to drop boxes by 8:00pm on February 11, 2020 will be eligible.” There is a drop box located outside Skyway Library.

4) In Person

“Voters may receive and/or return ballots at a vote center located at King Conservation District’s Office, 800 SW 39th St., Suite 150, Renton, WA 98057. This voting center will be open from 9:00am to 8:00pm on Tuesday, February 11, 2020.”

This election will be to fill one open seat, and there are two candidates: Stephen Carl Deutschman (Dutch) and Chris Porter:

Stephen Carl Deutschman (Dutch)

[email protected]

Education: Coursework at Harper Community College, Highline Community College

Occupation: Retired Air Cargo Management

Statement: I have served as a Council Member on the King County Greater Maple Valley Unincorporated Area Council. This Council is one of four UAC’s established by King County. The Council deals with many Rural Area issues and has a voice directly to the County Council and all County Departments. I am currently serving on the Environmental Committee.

I have spoken at King County Council Meetings, interviewed on King 5 news, assisted with river health presentations at the Cedar River Council and Water Resource Inventory Area 8 aka wira8. I am currently working with the non profit group Save the Cedar River.

I lived on farms as a child and my father was born on a homestead in Montana. I know rural life and its people. and am friends with a family in King County still living on the family homestead.

Having lived in Rural King County for 42 years, we need someone that lives in the rural environment to
give a voice to its citizens and most importantly to the preservation and quality of its resources.

Tell us about your past experience with King Conservation District, or other Conservation Districts. I have worked with King County agencies as a member of the Greater Maple Valley Unincorporated Area Council to promote the well being of our rural areas from Transportation to the Environment.

What is the greatest strength of the Conservation District model, in your opinion? The model calls for better ground means taking important stewardship actions at home and in our communities to create healthy soil and water, to provide healthy food, and to conserve land, water, forests, wildlife and related natural resources. Simply stated, we must become the best, not better, stewards and we aren’t there yet.

What role can Conservation Districts play in addressing regional priorities, while still remaining true to their basic operating mandate? A Key Resource that must be explored is the Puget Sound Regional Council. PSRC members include more than 80 entities, including King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, as well as cities, towns, ports, state and local transportation agencies and tribal governments. They deal with several important environmental issues and they need to hear our voice, loud and strong.

If elected, during your term of office what will be your priority focus areas for KCD and what do you hope to accomplish? Since 1977 I have been living in rural unincorporated King County and have watched the effects of urban unabated growth impacting our beautiful rural areas. I have watched the terrible decline of the salmon runs on the Cedar River due to light pollution as well as a general lack of care. As part of the Orca food chain we are seeing the end results and loss of Orcas. I will stand up for our rural areas and bring back our river health.

Chris Porter

[email protected]
Facebook: Elect Chris Porter KCD Supervisor

Education: Bachelor of Science, San Diego State University, Master of Science, Western University of Health Science.
Occupation: Associate Supervisor King Conservation District & Pharmaceutical Sales

Statement: I am running for King Conservation District Supervisor because conservation has to become a way of life for us all. The protection of our waterways, salmon, orcas, and habitats should be our highest priority throughout King County. As a beekeeper, my connection to the environment has changed. There is a climate crisis, but people have to be inspired to become part of the environment. Whether you live in an apartment, house, or farm, there is always a way to connect and become part of the environment. As a supervisor, there will always be the responsibilities of budget, program oversight, and planning the future of conservation in King County, but I want to engage residents whether they live in urban, suburban, rural, or farmland, to take steps to connect to the environment. The Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy in King County addresses the needs of our most vulnerable. Voters have authorized this levy because they fully understand the depth of the problem. Conservation has yet to have its vulnerability understood. I want people to know they can volunteer on conservations projects throughout king county, become a beekeeper, plant native plants to attract pollinators, visit the farms throughout King County, and participate in saving the orcas and salmon. I want residents around King County to understand the important work of conservation and how all residents are connected to it, whether they live in the most remote part of King county, or in the middle of Seattle. I want residents to appreciate the importance of sustainable, regenerative farming, tree canopy in the cities, and clean waterways for our precious birds, salmon and orcas. I want to inspire young residents to become beekeepers and increase beehives in cities throughout the county. I ask for your support and vote.

Tell us about your past experience with King Conservation District, or other Conservation Districts. I have been involved with King Conservation District for over a year. I was appointed as an associate supervisor and worked on election reform and increasing the rates and charges to avoid a budget shortfall that will now allow the district to continue its hard work of conservation across King county. I have volunteered at its bare roots plant sale, planting native species plant starters, and restoring wildlife habitats in urban centers.

What is the greatest strength of the Conservation District model, in your opinion? The greatest strength of the Conservation District’s model is collaboration and partnerships. In order to gain the trust of the community and raise awareness, it is critical that the community be included in every step of the way. The Conservation District only works when the stakeholders, employees, elected officials, and community members all understand and believe in the mission of the district. This is what accounts for a partnership that stretches from California to British Columbia Canada to protect the orca. Also greater focus on the local community in the urban and rural setting will help to build greater partnerships.

What role can Conservation Districts play in addressing regional priorities, while still remaining true to their basic operating mandate? Recently, a King County Council Member announced new plans for flood control in King County. This plan is very consistent with goals and priorities for the conservation district in addressing flooding in the region. The new plan, adjusted for the population growth, could very well help the district adjust its goals around that and set targets that better addresses the changing population of King County. The Conservation Districts has planned well for rural and farming communities, but further engagement of urban centers is needed to elevate the work and focus of the district.

If elected, during your term of office what will be your priority focus areas for KCD and what do you hope to accomplish? If elected, my priority is to bring full transparency to this elected office. Every voter should know about the office and the conservation district. I would like to become an expert pollinator, helping King County Residents, businesses, and partners build, garden, and farm and never forget the vital role that pollinators play in our lives: Bees, Birds, Butterflies, Bats, Flies, insects, and Moths. I want everyone to know that they can change what happens to our environment by thinking about and planting plants that attract pollinators. Inspiring residents to turn their manicured lawns into a wildlife habitat.

So is this all safe and secure?

“This election could be a key step in moving toward electronic access and return for voters across the region,” King County Director of Elections Julie Wise said. “My role here is to remove barriers to voting.”

Wise acknowledged that, in a world where everything online is theoretically vulnerable to hacking, many may be leery about voting online.

“There’s a lot of things we do online, banking, health records, that are also of concern for people that are secure,” Wise said. “I’ve vetted this, technology experts in the region have vetted this to ensure that this is a safe, secure voting opportunity.”

“Online, mobile voting is coming to King County — but only for an election you’ve likely never heard of” by David Gutman, Seattle Times

While King County Elections will be double-checking the digital signature you make by dragging your finger across the screen against the one on file that you scrawled in pen, there are still many concerns about mobile voting.

“…security experts have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to mobile-voting expansions in recent years. Some say that technology has not advanced enough yet, while others say the Internet will never be safe or transparent enough for something as important as democracy.”

“Exclusive: Seattle-Area Voters To Vote By Smartphone In 1st For U.S. Elections” by Miles Parks, NPR Morning Edition

What do you think of this new way of voting? Is King County ready for mobile ballots? Join the discussion on our Facebook Page.

UPDATE 1/26: King County Elections Director Julie Wise provides additional context for this election in light of some of the concerns and questions that have been voiced by voters. Here are some of the key points:

  • The King Conservation District Election is not one of King County’s regular elections
  • Under state law, some special districts (like drainage, irrigation, diking, conservation districts) are allowed to hold their own elections, and not required to follow the same rules as a standard election
  • There are no plans for our traditional elections administered by King County Elections to switch to mobile for the foreseeable future – they will continue to be vote by mail
  • Only 0.02% of the 1.2 million voters in King County cast a ballot in the last election, prompting the need to find an alternative
  • “With their limited budget, KCD decided that providing ballots online and allowing them to be returned online would be the most effective way to reach as many people as possible. They definitely recognize that this solution doesn’t work ideally for some communities and consider this a first step in figuring out a better way to do their elections.”
  • KCD worked with DemocracyLive, a local vendor, to build an online ballot delivery platform for this KCD Board of Supervisors election
  • KCD contracted King County Elections to handle ballot processing and results tabulation for this election
  • Director Wise supports House Bill 2415, currently being heard in the state legislature, which would make these special district elections conform to regular law and process
  • Finally, Director Wise adds “What I will say, in light of all the security concerns that have been raised, is that while I have no interest in moving our regular elections online, I do have complete confidence in DemocracyLive and this technology. It has been vetted by both local and national IT and security experts. What’s more, our processing will look exactly like it always does. We will be printing out every ballot and validating every signature. I will also say that tests like this are instrumental as we think about voting options for the future. Voting and technology are inevitably going to change and my belief is that when we have opportunities to learn more about what the potential risks and new tools are, we should take them.”

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