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Originally published September 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 18, 2007 at 2:07 AM

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Online plan to monitor ballots goes off track

Relations between the Metropolitan King County Council and Elections Director Sherril Huff soured Monday when the council refused to buy...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Relations between the Metropolitan King County Council and Elections Director Sherril Huff soured Monday when the council refused to buy a program that would let voters check online whether their mail-in ballots were received and counted.

The council voted to buy technology that will automate ballot-tracking but rejected a contract for software to put tracking information on the Internet when the county moves to all-mail voting next year.

An expected vote to spend $345,000 on the VoteHere software was derailed when vote-by-mail opponent Jason Osgood told the council it appeared that VoteHere — along with its parent company, Dategrity — "appears to be out of business."

Election officials said they believed the company was in business but had sold the right to market the VoteHere ballot tracker to another Bellevue company, Election Trust.

When an assistant to Huff said a third election official, who wasn't in attendance, could answer questions about Election Trust's ability to service and upgrade VoteHere software, Councilmember Dow Constantine, D-Seattle, said he was "not comfortable with the answers that we've received."

After a recess, the council unanimously adopted Seattle Democrat Larry Phillips' amendment to reject the VoteHere purchase while approving a $1.6 million appropriation to buy and use Pitney Bowes' ballot-tracking software.

Election officials wanted the VoteHere product along with Pitney Bowes' system so voters could find out when their ballots were mailed to them, when they were received by King County Elections, when their signatures were verified, and when their ballots were taken out of their envelopes to be counted.

After the council vote, Councilmember Bob Ferguson, D-Seattle, dressed down Huff, saying, "As policymakers, we have to have all information in front of us. I think you misjudged badly on that."

Councilmember Reagan Dunn, R-Maple Valley, agreed: "I'm disappointed that Elections didn't have answers to these very basic questions. Help us. Help us by getting us the facts so we can do this properly."

Huff said later she doesn't expect the squabble over VoteHere to delay plans to begin all-mail voting in April. She said she expects to come back to the council with a renewed request for purchase of the VoteHere technology.

"They have not gone out of business," she said. "Nothing has changed. The business part of this is intact. The sales force has changed."

John Bodin, managing partner of Election Trust, said his company signed an agreement with Dategrity in July to become the exclusive reseller of VoteHere. Election Trust now manages all VoteHere contracts with 20 counties in Washington and one California county, he said.

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Bodin referred questions about VoteHere parent Dategrity to Dategrity's vice president, K.C. Watkins, who could not be reached late Monday.

Bodin said the bid made by Dategrity to King County "is not something that we have agreed to, and in fact was something that we were looking forward to exploring with the county" after the council approved a plan to buy ballot-tracking equipment.

That plan didn't pass muster with council staffer Michael Alvine, who said it was "really not up to the standards we would normally expect." The document lacked a dollars-to-

dollars comparison of costs and benefits, and it lacked baseline performance measurements, he said.

The council accepted the plan but directed County Executive Ron Sims to provide a cost-benefit analysis and performance measurements by April 30, 2009.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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