Auditor's Office - Stevens County, Washington

Stevens County, WA Strengthens Ballot Drop Box Security with USDR's Documentation Tool


In response to heightened concerns regarding election security following the 2020 presidential race, the Auditor's Office in Stevens County, Washington, sought to ensure public confidence in the integrity of their ballot drop boxes for the midterm elections. As a rural county with just under 35,000 registered voters, the objective was to deploy a solution to document and demonstrate the security measures surrounding their ballot retrieval process. U.S. Digital Response (USDR) teamed up with the county to create a security documentation tool for ballot drop boxes, designed to reinforce procedures around collecting ballots from the boxes while comprehensively documenting evidence of the boxes' secure handling.

The Challenges of Compliance and Transparency

In 2019, Washington state introduced a new law requiring counties to provide at least one ballot drop box for every 15,000 registered voters or at least one drop box in each city, town, and census-designated place. Though counties challenged this in court as an unfunded mandate, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the requirement to install drop boxes. To comply with this mandate, Stevens County installed and managed six drop boxes across the jurisdiction (with more to come), including in remote areas with limited cell service. The implementation of this law coincided with heightened scrutiny and increased records requests from voters concerned about drop box security following the 2020 election.

Lori Larsen, Stevens County's elected auditor and chief election official, determined that their current ballot retrieval procedures needed adjustments to address any concerns that could arise. "Right at the time I'm installing drop boxes to comply with state law, folks were very concerned about drop box security, saying they were unsafe to use or components in election fraud," Lori said.

Faced with these challenges and a small team, Lori sought a solution that enabled her staff to collect evidence of their security measures and streamline the ballot retrieval process without overburdening staff. Moreover, the tool needed to be reliable and adaptable to service drop boxes in rural areas with inconsistent connectivity.

Our approach

A customized solution for ballot drop box security documentation

When Lori discovered USDR at an election conference, she was intrigued by USDR’s ability to develop easy-to-use election technology solutions. Because of her timeline and affordability constraints, Lori contacted USDR for help.

USDR's team collaborated closely with Lori to understand the county's requirements. Together, the team worked to design a ballot drop box security documentation tool that aligned with Stevens County's goals of strengthening ballot retrieval procedures and collecting comprehensive evidence of the ballot boxes’ security. With features like uploading time-stamped photos, documenting security seal numbers, and logging digital records of box openings and closings, the tool would provide an indisputable audit trail without creating excess work for the lean election staff.

USDR's expert technologist volunteers built the tool to accommodate Stevens County's specific needs, such as enabling offline access for areas without cell coverage and adding prompts for documenting box conditions and suspicious activity. 

Enhancing efficiency and transparency in ballot retrieval

After collaborating with USDR to develop the custom solution, Stevens County deployed the application countywide during the August 2023 primary election. Since then, the tool has been used successfully in four consecutive elections, including the midterms, special elections, and the presidential primary.

The implementation was a resounding success, with staff adopting the user-friendly tool to document each step of the retrieval process at all six drop box locations. Teams captured time-stamped photos of sealed and opened ballot boxes and security seals using the mobile web form at each site. The tool automatically logged timestamp data and provided a field for noting unusual circumstances.

This digital recordkeeping system proved efficient, too, enabling staff to document the security of the boxes quickly. Most critically, the security documentation tool equipped Stevens County with meticulous evidence to demonstrate the integrity of its processes.

"What we have is an Airtable-based web form that has a few prompts - location of the dropbox that's being serviced, staff members involved, and the ability to upload photos to demonstrate the state of the security seal,” Lori said.

Building voter confidence through proactive record-keeping

The time-stamped photos and comprehensive logs play a vital role in enabling the Stevens County elections office to investigate and address any security concerns or inquiries about ballot retrieval procedures.

If a voter were to raise a concern about suspicious activity at a drop box, the documentation tool would allow officials to search through the database and quickly compile a report detailing the box's service history and security documentation to demonstrate the integrity of the ballots inside. While Stevens County has not yet needed to present this data to counter any allegations, Lori emphasizes the peace of mind that having a clear, accessible audit trail provides. 

Final reflections on the partnership

Reflecting on the partnership with USDR, Lori expressed gratitude not only for the custom solution itself but also for the collaborative process of working with USDR’s team to develop the application. "The developers I was working with asked great questions that expanded my thoughts about possibility," she recalled. "It gave me an appreciation of how broad a tool of this nature could be used." Staff on her team also shared positive feedback. “I feel more confident that we can provide documentation of the ballot pickup from the Permanent Ballot Drop boxes,” said Shannan Hughes, Election Coordinator.

With access to USDR's skilled volunteers and their experience developing specialized software for election offices' unique needs, counties of all sizes can deliver the secure, transparent voting experience their communities expect and deserve.

"The developers I was working with asked great questions that expanded my thoughts about possibility. It gave me an appreciation of how broad a tool like this nature could be used."

Lori Larson
County Auditor
Auditor's Office - Stevens County, Washington



Meet the team

Jide Ehimika
Jide is a technical product manager working with partners to build tools required to run modern, efficient, and trustworthy elections. He has over a decade experience in helping teams build tools and processes to transform their organizations.
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