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Video of Washington election worker misrepresented

August 10, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A video shows an election worker in Clark County, Washington, improperly closing a ballot drop box 30 minutes early, making a voter put their ballot in a bag instead.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The drop box was not closed and the election worker told the voter they could still deposit their ballot into the box if they did not wish to put it into the bag. Clark County election officials and the Washington Secretary of State’s office say election workers are able to collect ballots from voters near drop boxes to speed up the process, prevent the boxes from overflowing and to ensure that everyone who is in line can vote before the 8 p.m. deadline.

THE FACTS: The video clip showing a drivers’ interaction with the election worker has circulated widely on social media since the local primary election last week.

The footage was filmed by a driver who was in the queue to drop off a ballot at a transit center in unincorporated Clark County, near Vancouver, Washington. In the clip, the worker can be seen standing alongside the cars holding an open bag facing the drivers. The drop box is visible a little further down the road.

The woman recording the video asks the election worker: “Why are you not allowing us to put them in the ballot box?” The worker responds by saying that it takes them roughly 25 minutes to retrieve all the ballots in the drop box and that they have to close it right at 8 p.m. The worker then says that the driver can still drop off their ballot at the box if they prefer.

Many social media users claimed that the footage showed corrupt activity. One Twitter user wrote on Thursday, “Nothing to see here, just a darker shade of corrupt snatching of red votes: Clark County, WA collecting ballots in an open knapsack.”

“ILLEGAL: Clark County election workers closed the ballot drop boxes 30 mins prior to closing,” another user falsely claimed.

But the claims are misrepresenting the incident. The box was not closed, and the worker was providing extra collection support, which officials say is routine in the state. Washington state election law and administrative code permit election officials to accept ballots from voters at ballot drop boxes, Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, who oversees elections in the county, and the secretary of state’s office said in separate statements to The Associated Press.

The practice is intended to speed up the process and ensure that every voter who is in line to drop off a ballot at a designated site by 8 p.m. can do so, Kimsey said, adding that the county has historically experienced long lines at the end of election day.

“By giving voters the option of depositing their ballot with an election administrator (who is clearly identifiable by their badge and vest) the line moves much more quickly enabling election administrators to identify the vehicle that is last in line at 8 p.m.,” Kimsey’s statement continued.

All ballots, including those given directly to an election worker, are secured in official ballot bags and delivered to the elections office, Kimsey added. Election observers are also present at the end of election day at ballot drop boxes in Clark County, and there were “three certified election observers representing the Republican party” at the site when the video was recorded, he noted.

Washington is among a handful of states that conduct all of their elections by mail, outside of one in-person voting center in each county. All registered voters are sent a ballot in the mail. The voter completes the ballot, places it in a secure inner envelope and then into a separate mailing envelope and signs an affidavit. The envelopes don’t display any party affiliation or voting choices. The voter then either mails off the ballot or returns it to a drop off location.

Such drop off locations can be staffed or unstaffed. The Washington Secretary of State’s office confirmed that the actions captured in the video at a staffed drop location were permitted under laws and codes that aim to prevent the overflow of ballot boxes and allow for the collection of ballots in secure storage containers.

“Election workers providing additional support, particularly when lines get long in order to expedite ballot submission, is not uncommon,” spokesperson Amy Lin wrote in an email.

The office pointed to a law on ballot drop boxes that requires county auditors to prevent them from overflowing, saying that in this video, the election workers were following the law by ensuring that a long line of last minute voters wouldn’t overwhelm the drop box as the deadline approached.

Stuart Holmes, Washington’s acting director of elections, also cited a section of the state code on secure storage, which allows ballots to be placed in containers such as the bag pictured. The bag in the video appeared to be a ballot transfer carrier with the ability to be securely sealed, he said, adding that ballots from the drop box would also ultimately be placed into such containers.

“When you combine those two statutes together it really amounts to making sure that people who are in their vehicles ⁠— which creates a massive line ⁠— are able to get through the line and process their ballot,” Holmes said.

Washington Administrative Code requires deposit site staff to “subscribe to an oath regarding the discharge of their duties,” and Holmes noted that there would be criminal consequences if any workers handled the ballots improperly.

Patrick L. Schoettmer, a politics professor at Seattle University who researches voting behavior and regularly observes voting at local drop boxes, reviewed the video and confirmed that he didn’t see anything “abnormal or or out of order.”

“That could strike me as being a legitimate acceptance of a ballot of someone who was already in line,” he added.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.