Pierce County says changes made after 152 ballots went uncounted in August primary

TACOMA, Wash. -- During elections you always hear how every vote counts, but in Pierce County it didn’t for some voters because of a big mistake.

Just days before the November 7 elections, Pierce County elections officials discovered a whole batch of ballots that were never counted in the primary elections in August.

Pierce County election officials say 152 votes went uncounted.

All the votes came from the unincorporated town of Purdy, specifically from a single dropbox at the Purdy Fire Station #56.

Purdy resident Joyce Bennett is now wondering if she was affected.

“It’s their responsibility to the people with what they do with those votes,” Bennett said.

Q13 News tried to get an official at the Pierce County Auditor’s Office to explain on camera what went wrong.

The elections manager, Mike Rooney, referred us to Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.

We last spoke to Anderson on camera on Election Day. She did not mention the mix-up on that day and on Monday Anderson declined to speak on camera about the issue.

Instead Anderson sent Q13 News a letter she sent to Pierce County leaders addressing the uncounted ballots in detail.

She said officials were made aware of the mistake on November 3. Workers had accidentally left a small bag containing 152 ballots inside a tub instead of placing them out for processing.

The ballots were in a tub that contained election supplies and were overlooked by the workers.

The letter also said they didn’t alert the public right away for a number of reasons, including concerns that it would create confusion ahead of the general elections.

There was also the fact that the primary results were already certified and could not be changed at that point.

But Anderson promised changes within their system.

They no longer will use small bags to collect ballots from the drop boxes; workers instead will be required to only use tubs. And supplies for election teams will not be provided using tubs, in order to lessen potential confusion.

All 152 votes were eventually counted and determined that it would not have made a difference in any of the primary races in August.

As of Monday, some of the results of the general elections were still outstanding. Workers were sorting through thousands of votes that had to be recounted for two very close races.

The Buckley City Council Position 3 and a Lakewood Water District race were so close they triggered a mandatory recount. The Buckley City Council Position #3 is the closest separating the two candidates, by just 1 vote.

So in these two races every vote does matter and a human error could affect the outcome.

Q13 News asked Rooney if the office was confident the recounts were being done with 100% accuracy in light of the earlier mistake.

“We do our checks and our double-checks,” Rooney said.

Rooney says political observers from both parties are also watching the process.