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  • Success Story
  • King County, WA

How King County, WA keeps voters aware of mail-in ballots and encourages voting participation


King County Elections (KCE) looked to bring greater transparency and awareness to Washington’s vote-by-mail ballot processing by sending updates to voters throughout the voting process. With targeted messaging provided through govDelivery and support from the Granicus Experience Group (GXG), the KCE team was able to send one-to-one notifications to voters who submitted their mail-in ballot. As a result, over 80% of voters who opted into the alerts were able to get their ballots cured, or corrected, before the voting deadline in the most recent general election.

“King County came to this with big dreams and goals. Granicus gave us an incredibly helpful, generous [GXG] team that allowed us to manage any hurdles that we faced as we were increasing our understanding of the systems, abilities, and limitations.”
Jaclyn Adams, Project Manager King County Elections, Kings County, WA 

Project Metrics

  • 67% greater cure rate among voters opted in for alerts
  • 91% greater turnout among opt-in voters in Special Election
  • 1.4 million registered voters in county (approx.)
  • 5 languages for ballot alerts (soon to be 7)

Meeting the needs of mail-in voting 

The largest county in Washington state, and 13th largest in the country, King County, WA, is home to the innovative thinking that has long been associated with its county seat, Seattle. That reputation for cutting-edge thinking extends to county offices in King County as well.

King County Elections (KCE) conducts elections for 192 jurisdictions and 1.4 million registered voters with a team made up of state- and nationally-certified election administrators with many years of experience not only running vote-by-mail elections but proudly setting standards in those elections. Recent races have placed vote-by-mail elections into the spotlight, focusing on the very issues that KCE aims to maintain in any election.

“We’re very driven by our core values of accuracy, equity, integrity, service, teamwork, and transparency,” said Halei Watkins, KCE Communications Officer. “We strongly believe in radical transparency and strive to be as transparent as we possibly can, to lift the curtain for our voters in every single way possible, to let them know when they stick their ballot in the mailbox or in one of our drop boxes: What happens to that ballot?”

The answer, Watkins said, is an incredibly detailed, comprehensive, and secure process at a processing facility where, ultimately, every eligible ballot is counted and accounted for. Ballots without a valid signature are flagged during this process, and voters are alerted of the error and notified of their ability to correct, or cure, their ballot before the election deadline.

While Watkins said that while ballot alerts don’t necessarily turn the tide in the elections, the environment around voting in all communities makes it important for electors to address the issue.

“Everything that we can do to build that trust with a voter, even something as simple as a text message, really goes a long way,” she said.

That’s where the Emerald City’s history of technological innovation stepped in.

“We noticed that there was really a need to be able to connect voters with real-time information about the status of their ballot,” said Project Manager Jaclyn Adams. “While we had tools available on our website, we realized that there were still voters who were getting their ballots challenged and not realizing it in time to be able to make a difference to cure their ballot. So, this really came from a push to more action for folks.”

“Being able to work with the Granicus team and incorporate their tools with our existing tools made the work so much easier. I think that made it possible for us to really dream big.”
Halei Watkins, Communications Officer, King County Elections King County, WA

Teaming together for broad outreach

Ahead of the 2022 General Election, KCE allowed voters to sign up through the “My Voter Information” section of the county website for text and email alerts about their ballot status at different processing milestones. Initially, KCE offered ballot alerts in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

The goal was deceptively simple: Provide proactive alerts to voters, sometimes within minutes of their ballot moving through the process. Ballots received early in the voting period typically moved through all steps of processing and verification within hours of being received at KCE headquarters, with voters often receiving messages in the same day stating that the ballot had been received and, later, that their signature had been verified and their ballot counted; or alerting the voter to any issues with the ballot that needed addressing.

KCE’s dedicated IT team included an on-staff application developer who handled the website. But when it came time to integrate messaging, the team turned to Granicus for targeted messaging and email capabilities through the govDelivery communications platform and assistance from the Granicus Experience Group (GXG). With Granicus’ help, a custom-built API connected the My Voter Information system with govDelivery to ensure seamless messaging.

“In elections, particularly in the current climate of misinformation, it’s critical that the correct voter gets the correct message at the correct time,” said Watkins. “An errant message could serve to fuel distrust and doubts, a possibility our team was especially sensitive about. Before launch, we had to make certain that each message went to its intended recipient and accurately reflected where that voter’s ballot stood in the process.”

Throughout the summer and fall, leading up to the General Election, the KCE team used a series of tests to identify needs, gaps, and other issues.

“Granicus gave us a really dedicated, incredibly helpful, and generous [GXG] team that allowed us to manage any hurdles that we faced,” said Adams. “We were increasing our understanding of the systems, abilities, and limitations, and they really held our hands through all the technical processes. It empowered our internal IT team to learn new abilities and skills, to be able to track what we were doing, and pull data as well at the end of the project. Granicus’s support was integral to our success.”


Engagement that creates action

That success of the new program was seen almost immediately. In the 2022 November General Election, over 80% of challenged voters who received ballot alerts took action to cure, or correct, the challenges and have their ballot counted. In comparison, the cure rate for other voters was 48%. That success continued in a 2023 special election that saw 65% turnout among voters who has opted in to receive ballot alerts, while the overall voter turnout was 34%.

The early numbers not only prove the value that technology brought to the election process but the impact it can have on broadening the idea of voting access in general.

“This feels like an exercise in radical transparency,” said Adams. “Taking numbers that we already provide and making them easier for the public to consume, to meet them where they’re at, in their language —that’s what is leading to the level of engagement that we’re seeing, and we hope to continue to see it grow. And it’s important in every election from the small ones we’ve been having to the larger ones we’ll have. The results have shown us that that is the direction that kind of engagement leads to: greater turn out, greater cure rates, and more voices being heard.”

In the near future, KCE plans to expand the program to include additional messages, such as reminders to voters who haven’t returned their ballot, as well as add Russian and Somali language ballot alerts to the system.

“We are an innovative region, a very tech-heavy region, and we like to move the ball forward wherever we can,” said Watkins. “It’s peace of mind for voters, knowing where their ballot is, and it gives them more time to take care of an issue if one arises.

“Being able to work with the Granicus team and incorporate their tools with our existing tools made the work so much easier,” she continued. “I think that made it possible for us to really dream big.”

“There are lots of nuances to communicating in other languages that require sensitivity and awareness. The Granicus [Experience Group] team was really a great partner and creative problem solver throughout the process. They really understood why it was important to get those messages right every time."
– Halei Watkins, Communications Officer, King County Elections King County, WA