Ballots in Washington State are tied to specific individuals, with unique bar codes that record the path of the ballot — a protection that would also, incidentally, make it difficult for a foreign country to print counterfeit ballots. Voters can actually track to see when their ballot has been mailed, when the election office has received it back from them and whether it has been counted.
If someone did actually try to acquire ballots through mail theft, Ms. Wise said, voters could monitor their ballot and call for a replacement, a process that would render invalid the original ballot that was sent. As Mr. Trump said, voters can print replacement ballots — hundreds of them if they wanted to. But since the ballots are linked to them individually, only one vote is going to be accepted and repeated submissions might be grounds for investigation.
Ms. Wise said officials had not heard of voters reporting that ballots were cast on their behalf unexpectedly, so thus far there is no evidence that people are stealing and submitting ballots.
Even if a ballot were to get stolen and submitted, it would run into another obstacle. Voters must sign the ballot return envelope. Workers at the election office are trained to examine signatures, checking to make sure the signature that comes in matches the one on file for the voter before sending the ballot along the line to be counted.
A voter with a problematic signature will be contacted by the election office, sometimes by phone, and asked to fill out an additional form to verify their identity. Ms. Wise said she herself has had her signature rejected on two occasions because it has changed over the years, and she was able to resolve the discrepancy to get her vote counted.
“It’s a good system,” Ms. Wise said.
Unlike other states that depend on volunteers in polling places to manage ballots, Washington State uses professionals to distribute ballots and then collect, analyze and count them in a central location.
In the King County elections office, cameras keep an eye on everything, and the public can tune in to watch. Political parties and campaigns also monitor the process.