The front office of the Nez Perce County Auditor’s Office is packed with people casting early ballots for Tuesday’s general election.
Despite the large number of early voters, the office is relatively quiet. Voting is serious business.
Patty O. Weeks has been at the helm of the county’s elections office for nearly 20 years, and she and her crew are ramping up for this year’s big day.
Craig Clohessy: In this day and age with voter security, hacking, etc., being center stage, how is Nez Perce County ensuring that we have a secure and accurate election?
Patty Weeks: Some of our procedures we have been following for years to ensure that the security is sound. We have logs for everything. People aren’t left alone with ballots. It’s a lot of checks and balances. And we’ve done that for many, many years. One thing that we are doing a little bit differently is we are training our poll workers on election security of what we do, but this time so that they know what takes place on the back end, behind the scenes. I think it’s important that the public know, too, so we’ve actually posted a video to our website talking about security of the election. We do a lot of logic and accuracy testing to make sure that the tabulator is counting votes correctly. As soon as we get ballots we test it, and then we test it, and we test it, and then we have a public test — invite the public in to see. Then we test it before we count any ballots, and once we’re through on election night we stay and then we test it again to make sure.
It is important to note that our election cybersecurity is protected because our ballot tabulator is not connected to the internet, so it would prevent unauthorized access with our election night counting. Also, our ballots are paper, which cannot be hacked from afar.
CC: You’re running this whole operation, and there’s a lot to do. Do you love elections?
PW: I do love elections. ... It’s exciting to problem-solve when things come up. My cellphone starts ringing at 7 o’clock in the morning — poll workers with questions, the public with questions — and it goes all day until we’re done. And problem-solving can be anything from a little thing to a big thing. A little thing might be a poll worker can’t find a particular envelope in their supply box. (A big thing would be) having to pick up a whole precinct and move it because there’s an ordnance next door and the bomb squad from Spokane is coming.
CC: How many years have you been the elected clerk-auditor?
PW: Oh, it’ll be 20 in January. (Weeks is running unopposed on Tuesday’s ballot.)
CC: What’s kept you interested and engaged for so many years?
PW: I practiced law for a number of years, and I represented victims of domestic violence and had a high caseload because I couldn’t turn anybody down. It kept growing, and really I got burned out. I had a friend suggest that I look at running for this position since my predecessor was retiring, and I was really interested in the court side of it and started learning more about the position. It’s bigger than just the court, and I enjoy it. It’s challenging; it’s something different constantly. And I’m still able to provide public service. One of the badges of honor I have is when people come into our office. I love it when they walk away wondering what just happened, because it’s not a bureaucracy. ... We’ll make the extra phone call to see if we can help them out.
CC: Outside of your elected county office, you coach basketball. What got you involved in that, and how long have you been doing it?
PW: I’m in my seventh year of coaching Highland (Huskies of Craigmont) boys’ basketball. The players are just awesome. They’re great kids, they work really hard, they want to do well. It’s a very small school, and I think it’s important that I treat the players with respect and they treat their coaches with respect and there’s a lot of life skills involved in basketball. I just love the game. My loyalty to my basketball players extends into the future if they ever need anything.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2251.