Pledging to deliver ‘top-notch elections’ for Snohomish County, officials cut ribbon for new center

Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell thanks the county executive, county council, the facility team and many others for supporting the vision of the Elections Center.

Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell welcomed local officials, community leaders and the media to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the county’s new Elections Center in Everett. Located on the third floor of the County Admin West building at the county plaza, this 17,000-square-foot, $8.6 million facility is dedicated to ballot processing and counting operations for Snohomish County all under one roof. 

Designed to meet production demands for this presidential race as well as future elections, the center also focuses on enhancing ballot and staff security and providing better opportunities for public observation and process transparency.

The event included remarks from Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, County Councilmember Sam Low, County Prosecutor Jason Cummings and President-Elect of the League of Women Voters Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. 

Participants in the Elections Center ribbon-cutting ceremony (L-R): Snohomish County Prosecutor Jason Cummings, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell, Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low and League of Women Voters President-Elect Adrienne Fraley-Monillas.

Fell led a guided tour of the Elections Center after the ribbon cutting.

“As we head into a year where elections are front and center, this facility provides the space, security and transparency we need to deliver top-notch elections for Snohomish County voters, and it demonstrates the county’s ongoing commitment to accurate, fair elections,” Fell said. 

The Elections Center includes an observer loop that allows candidates, political party members and the public to easily monitor activities. After checking in at the Elections Center entrance, observers can freely walk the observer loop, see staff processing ballots and read instructional posters that explain the steps in counting ballots. 

“I know how important suitable, secure space is to ensure that high-turnout elections are conducted in a secure and professional manner,” said. Snohomish County Prosecutor Jason Cummings.

“Having served on the county canvassing board in previous presidential election years, I know how important suitable, secure space is to ensure that high-turnout elections are conducted in a secure and professional manner,” County Prosecutor Cummings said. “The Elections Center will allow county staff to follow the methodical counting and auditing procedures they use to ensure accuracy and confidence in our election results.” 

The lobby has a mural on the wall – “Journey of the Ballot” created by Snohomish County Public Engagement Officer Sierra Cornelius – that illustrates how votes are counted from start to finish in a nine-step process. Fell said that this serves to educate visitors after they check in at the elections center.

The mural “Journey of the Ballot” in the Elections Center’s lobby gives an overview of each step of the election counting and validation process.
All rooms are transparent with a lack of cubicles and walls that block the view of future election workers. The facility can hold up to 150 employees.

During the tour, Fell pointed out the lack of walls in the center room and floor-to-ceiling windows in all rooms. Nearly all of these windows have “VOTE” stickers on them to minimize the risk of people accidentally walking into them. “We want to make sure it’s a welcoming environment for people to come and observe the process,” Fell said.

Open ceilings provide additional transparency, allowing observers to see all the data lines and duct work. None of the computers are connected to the Internet to ensure data security. “When we get to our actual election spaces, you can follow the wires that are related to the vote counting system,” Fell said. “[We] want to make sure that this is as open as possible, which was the intention of the design.”

Ballots are archived in the storage room that has extra security measures.

Before the Elections Center was created, Fell said that election workers had to count and validate ballots on multiple floors and in different buildings. During higher voter turnouts, such as a presidential election, the county had to lease space at Paine Airfield and set up security features. “Then we close it down after the election, give up the lease and bring all the materials back to the county, and we spread [it out] between a couple of buildings,” Fell said. It cost the county $1.5 million every four years to build and dismantle an extended facility, he added.

Public Engagement Officer Cornelius said that the county “did not pull any significant amount from the county’s general fund” to build and design the Elections Center. “The [$8.6 million] budget was funded by federal grants and money specifically set aside by county officials over the course of several years to invest in elections-related capital improvements,” Cornelius said. “The largest share of investment came from our federal government due to the importance of our administering federal elections in a secure, transparent and accurate manner.”

No computers are connected to an external network to ensure security and avoid outside interference.

Fell said that the previous facility had stanchions instead of walls to separate spaces. “Here we have actual walls, which can separate observers and workers, making sure that if we have emergency situations, we can cordon off spaces and keep people safe,” he said. “The location on the campus itself – and we’re so close to our county partners – means that we’re not waiting around if we have a technical or facility issue. I think it’s also a much more recognizable place for people to come.”

Cummings said that his office is located nearby so that it can provide full legal service to auditors during the election, such as legal advice about the election process and dealing with lawsuits and voter fraud. 

“I encourage citizens to participation, understand the election process and safeguards of checks and balances,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.

“It’s a fine line to walk: security and openness to the public, and that’s what we got here in this new facility,” County Executive Somers said. “I encourage citizens to participation, understand the election process and safeguards of checks and balances. You will have as much confidence in the election as I do.”

Fraley-Monillas said that members of the League of Women Voters had also observed the voting process and “know the process is safe.” 

“League members have observed the ongoing, robust testing and validation,” she said. “[We] have worked with staff to help cure signature issues. We have shared a table with election staff members and many voter registration events

Councilmember Low recalled the times he had observed the election process at Paine Airfield and believed that the public should have the same access as he does. “I want to charge every citizen in this county to actually come and observe the process,” Low said. “There’s a lot of people who think they know how elections are done. But come down and see the process for yourself. It’s going to instill a lot of confidence.”

There are two ballot envelope sorting machines in the Elections Center. Each machine can sort 18,000 ballot envelopes per hour.

During the upcoming primary election, Fell expects a 45% voter turnout with about half a million ballots scheduled to be sent out on July 19. The deadline to return primary ballots is Aug. 6.

The public may email the county at to request a tour of the Elections Center.

In addition to the tours, there are some upcoming opportunities to observe key election activities for the Aug. 6 primary. More information is available on the county website.

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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