County buys beefed-up ballot boxes

Auditor says he wants more security during contested election year

As the nation prepares for another controversial and polarizing election at the end of 2024, Grays Harbor County will get beefed-up new ballot boxes to make sure the democratic process all goes to plan.

County Auditor Joe Maclean said the environment — both political and natural — led to his decision to design and invest in election security measures.

“Today’s environment calls for more security, and I want our constituents to make sure that they know Grays Harbor County elections are secured,” Maclean said.

The Grays Harbor County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 27 approved an $80,000 contract with Miller’s Smith and Losli Sheet Metal, a manufacturer in Aberdeen, to build new ballot drop boxes to be placed across the county.

The new boxes will be made with stainless steel in hopes to avoid the rust that’s plagued the current ballot boxes.

Maclean said rust hasn’t compromised the physical integrity of any of the current boxes, but rusty ballot boxes don’t give that impression.

“Replacing them with stainless steel ballot boxes will ensure we don’t have to replace them again for a very long time,” he said.

Maclean said that during his tenure Grays Harbor County hasn’t had any reported instances of ballot box tampering or vandalism. About 10 years ago, he said, someone took a baseball bat to a ballot box in Montesano.

Tampering with ballot boxes is a criminal offense.

Many states expanded the use of ballot boxes as a form of remote voting during the pandemic. But a handful of states reduced or eliminated the form of drop-in voting after 2020 after campaigns against them. Surveillance footage of voters with multiple ballots at voting sites were used by election conspirators in unfounded claims of voting fraud.

The King County Sheriff’s Office in July 2022 launched an investigation into the appearance of signs near Seattle-area ballot boxes warning of vote “harvesting,” but it did not end in criminal charges.

An AP poll from 2022 found state elections officials reported no major cases of vandalism, fraud or tampering that effected election results.

In Washington, where delivering a ballot for another person is not illegal, state law requires county auditors to implement at least one ballot box for every 15,000 voters in the county and at least one box in each city or town. Grays Harbor has 10 ballot boxes in cities from Oakville to Taholah.

The new design will be similar to a ballot box in Ocean Shores that was put in last year. Currently, some ballot boxes are riveted, some are welded and some are bolted together. With the new design, which Maclean created himself, the boxes will be bolted internally for greater security.

They’ll also contain two key locks. When accessed by officials, a frontal opening will allow better access to scoop out any ballots that might be stuck, and the inside will be lined with plastic bags.

“This will make for faster pickups when we’re out in the field, less chances of them getting wet from the rain when we’re trying to put them in containers,” Maclean said.

Maclean said Miller’s Smith and Losli is in the process of making the new boxes, which he hopes will be ready before the August primary election.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or