Think Out Loud

As election approaches, officials educate voters

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Nov. 2, 2022 5:53 p.m. Updated: Nov. 2, 2022 8:28 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Nov. 2

Ballots have been distributed statewide in Oregon for the Nov. 8, 2022 election.

Ballots have been distributed statewide in Oregon for the Nov. 8, 2022 election.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


In the Pacific Northwest, county election officials have tried to combat claims of election fraud and concerns over the security of vote counting and elections as a whole. Officials are fielding calls and responding to emails about how votes are processed. We learn more from Dan Forester, the elections manager at Washington County’s Elections Division, about this effort.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. You may have heard our recent conversation about election security with Oregon Secretary of State, Shemia Fagan; she gave an overview of how vote by mail works in Oregon. She is the state’s top elections official. But as she noted, elections are really handled at the county level. We wanted to know what counties are dealing with right now with less than a week to go before ballots have to be either put in a dropbox or postmarked. So we’ve called up Dan Forester, he is the elections manager in Washington County and he joins us now. Welcome to Think Out Loud.

Dan Forester: Thanks, Dave.

Miller: How big an increase in questions or concerns are you seeing?

Forester: We’re seeing a lot of questions coming from the public. I’d say the trend is upward. A lot more questions this election than I’ve ever seen before. A lot of questions about our tabulation systems and just about our processes in general.

Miller: So let’s go through some of these. When you say tabulation system, meaning that’s the system that actually counts the votes?

Forester: That’s right.

Miller: What are the specific concerns or questions people are asking you about these systems?

Forester: There’s a lot of concern from the public that tabulation systems might be vulnerable to hacking, or that they might be programmed in such a way as to deliver false results. So this is misinformation that’s out there and we spend a lot of time educating folks on how these systems are really safe. For one thing they are closed networks, they’re air gapped, they’re not connected to the internet or to any other network. And we also run, every election, a number of tests on these machines to make sure that they are functioning correctly and delivering expected results.

Miller: Can you describe how those tests work?

Forester: Sure. We do some internal tests on the machines, a pretty robust test about a month before election day, where we run through each of our six scanning machines, thousands of ballots. The current election, we ran about 4,500 ballots through every machine. And some of these test ballots are blank. Others have all of the ovals filled and then others follow a set testing pattern. And so we’re trying to make sure that the machines recognize when there is no vote on a contest or a ballot. And when there is what we call an overvote. That’s when somebody’s marked more than one choice in a contest. Also just that they can count correctly, that they can add up votes correctly.

It takes sometimes a couple of days to do that testing process a month out. But we also are required by statute to perform public tests. So these are versions of this logic test that are open to the public. We do two of the tests at the beginning of the election before we begin scanning and tabulating ballots. Then we do a third public test at the certification deadline. And the purpose of that is to demonstrate that, if we do the test at the beginning and the end and we get the same results, we can demonstrate that the machines have been working correctly for the whole election.

Miller: When you say that these are public tests, what does that mean? What could a Washington County resident or somebody in any other county who also has to follow these same regulations, what would that resident see?

Forester: We just actually had one of these tests this morning, and we had a number of observers. They see us running, for the public test, a smaller number of test ballots through each of our scanners. Not thousands of ballots in this case but a couple of 100. Then we run those ballots through, we generate reports and we compare those reports to a control report which is our expected results and we look to make sure that they match. So the observers, they watch the process of the ballots being scanned through and then they are invited to look at the reports with us just to verify the accuracy of the machines.

Miller: We started, more or less, not at the beginning of the process. We started here, where you said a lot of people are having questions about the vote tabulation. Do you also get questions or angry concerns about who’s getting balanced to begin with?

Forester: Yes, we do get questions. In Washington County, for example, we have 385,000 registered voters. So it’s quite a large database of voters that we have to manage, but we stay on top of it, and make sure that we have a clean and up to date voter registration list by participating in data cleaning projects like the USPS National Change of Address, also we’re members of the Electronic Registration Information Center, otherwise known as ERIC. We also will get death lists and we’re also in communication with other elections offices around the country just to make sure that we’ve got accurate and up to date information.

Miller: Meaning, so if somebody has newly registered in California and you can identify that they are on your list, you’ll take them off?

Forester: Yes. And that’s really the purpose of the ERIC program. When somebody does register in one of the participating states, we’ll get a notification and then we will remove them from our lists and they won’t get a ballot.


Miller: Are there other questions that have been coming up a lot? We’ve talked about vote counting and managing the voter rolls. What other issues are people asking you about?

Forester: There’s a lot that folks don’t know about elections, and we always encourage folks who have questions to reach out to an elections administrator, like myself, or to do some research on a trusted source, like a county elections website or through the Oregon Secretary of State’s election division website

[ State of Oregon: Voting & Elections - Voting & Elections] .

Folks have a lot of questions, for example, about post election audits. Something we get questions about a lot is, ‘we want you to run an audit after the election,’ and I think a lot of folks don’t realize that we already do this. This is something that’s part of the calendar, part of the schedule. So after an election, we will actually work with the Secretary of State on this. They will send us a list telling us which batches of ballots to pull and we’ll go ahead and hand count those, and again, make sure that they match up to the results that were generated by the tabulation system.

Miller: What percentage of total votes in your county will actually be checked out in that audit?

Forester: Oh, well, it’s a fairly small percentage. I feel like it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of one or two percent.

Miller: But the idea is that if you get an exact count for, even for a number that small, it’s a pretty good indication that the system is working?

Forester: Yes, it’s a representative sampling.

Miller: Have members of your office, or have you, had to deal with any harassment in recent weeks?

Forester: Well, luckily we haven’t had to deal with harassment per se. All of us working in the elections office have had conversations with people who are excited and sometimes misinformed by conspiracy theories that they might have heard. And so, we’ve had some intense conversations, but I would say that we’re lucky that we haven’t experienced harassment.

Miller: You noted that just this morning there was a public chance for residents there to watch a test of the tabulation system. What other opportunities are there for interested people to observe this process?

Forester: That’s a good question. First of all, we do have one more public test and that is going to be on our certification deadline which is the 5th of December. But in addition to that, we have folks that have joined us here in our office. Here at Washington County Elections, we have a special observation room where interested parties can observe the various processes that are happening in our secure area, via a feed directly from a worker’s monitor. So in the example of our signature verification process, we can project the work that a signature verifier is doing directly onto a monitor in our observation room and so observers can follow along.

Later in the process, we also do what’s called adjudicating ballots. When we have a ballot for a vote where the intent is not clear to the tabulation system, we have a bipartisan human team looking at that and adjudicating and trying to make sure that we are capturing the voter intent. So that is also something that we send to monitors in the observation room. In addition, there is a feed to our surveillance camera system throughout the building. They can watch what’s going on in all of the parts of the building from a closed circuit television monitor.

Miller: If someone, or when someone comes to you with various concerns or various questions that you can tell are based on misinformation, and then you or somebody in your office explains the safeguards in place, explains the process, the way you’ve been doing for us, do you feel like you’re actually able to convince them of the security of the system?

Forester: I feel like sometimes we are and it really depends where they’re coming from. Sometimes we are able to show them what we’re doing and they say, ‘Okay, I didn’t know that, this is new information for me. I see that this is actually a safe process, a secure process.’ And other times I don’t think that we fully convince folks, but I and a lot of my colleagues around the state view these conversations like it’s necessary, it’s just part of our effort to be transparent. And also we recognize that it’s incremental. We might not fully convince someone at one point, but a lot of folks will come back and we sometimes will get to know them a little bit, we’ll develop a relationship, and then they might begin to trust us just based on that kind of familiarity,

Miller: The cycle we’re in, right now, is that election doubt has often been sowed at the national level. And then it trickles down to states where some combination of conspiracy theories and misinformation is leading people to believe that widespread election fraud is happening, despite the fact that there is no evidence to back that up. Do you see a way to break that overall cycle?

Forester: We certainly do see some of the things that are talked about on the national level, here in Washington County and have had some of those conversations here in the office. But I think you really hit the nail on the head when you say there’s never been any evidence of widespread voter fraud in Oregon or anywhere in the country really. So we just have to keep coming back to that.

Miller: I imagine, I hope that you always feel a grave sense of responsibility in your job, given what’s at stake in it. I should say, before you were in Washington County, you were in Multnomah County for much of a decade. Is stress higher now because of the level of focus on election processes? And I’m thinking, what would people say if there were some kind of honest mistake?

Forester: Yeah, I think that there is added scrutiny. I mean, as you mentioned, I have been doing this for a little while and I think there’s always been scrutiny on elections, I think it has increased and that the stress has increased a little bit. To a certain extent, scrutiny is really good for the elections office. We need to - and we do - as you mentioned, we do take our jobs very seriously. We all believe that the goal of fair, transparent, secure elections is a very important goal. And so I would say that scrutiny and questions from observers and other folks in the public are good because they make us improve our processes. But we do get concerned because sometimes it happens, there are honest mistakes, it’s a human process and we do worry about those sort of getting blown out of proportion, or taken out of context maybe.

Miller: Dan Forester, thanks for your time.

Forester: Well, thank you Dave.

Miller: Dan Forester is the Elections Manager in Washington County’s Elections Division.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.