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What Happens to Your Vote-By-Mail Ballot After You Mail It In or Drop It Off?


by Lassen County Clerk-Recorder
Julie Bustamante

Do you wonder what happens to your ballot after you mail it or drop it off at a polling location in Lassen County? I have recently been asked this question a few times and thought I would share with you details on how your ballot is processed.

When your ballot is received in the Lassen County Clerk’s office, either by mail or over the counter, it is date-stamped and inspected making sure it contains your signature and residence address. It is placed in a ballot box for safekeeping. All ballot envelopes are locked in a secure room within the office until they are ready to be processed.

The next step is signature verification: each signature on the envelope is visually compared to the signature stored in the voter registration computer, which contains the scanned image from your voter registration card (VRC). The clerk reviewing the signature is looking for “similarities” not “differences”. If your signature has drastically changed and it is unsure to us that you signed your own envelope, we will contact you and request an updated VRC or ask you to re-sign your ballot envelope. If your signature has changed, but we can determine you most likely signed it, the ballot will be counted and you will be sent a new VRC after the election.

During the signature verification process, the ballot envelope information is stored and saved on the voter registration computer: the date the envelope was received; if it was received by mail, over the counter, at the polls, and if it is considered good (accepted for counting).

Hundreds of envelopes are processed at each time. The processed envelopes are banded in bundles of 25 and hand counted. This count is compared and balanced to the total count tallied on the voter registration computer.

Steve Pezzulo, a supervisorial candidate on the June ballot, and Lassen County Times Managing Editor Sam Williams watch as Bustamante explains the vote collection process.

At the end of each session, a data file is generated containing the information collected and the file is manually placed in a folder on the county’s secure computer system. The county’s system has a program that automatically loads this information into the county’s website allowing voters the opportunity to retrieve and view the status of their ballot envelope. You can go to the Registrar of Voters, Election webpage located at www.lassencounty.org and check the status of your ballot envelope.

At the polling places voters will find these AccuVote terminals

After balancing the hand count with the computer count, the ballot envelopes are stored and locked in metal ballot boxes and secured in a locked room. Allowed by law, the envelopes can be opened and ballots can be processed one week before the election. By this time, thousands of envelopes have arrived in the clerk’s office and are ready to process.

A minimum of two workers must be present at all times during the processing of the ballots. Envelopes are now processed in groups of 100 to 200, stacked and run through the electric letter opener. Care is used to keep voters’ names and addresses facing down, not visible to the processors.

Written logs are kept, indicating the number of envelopes opened, the date, time and the number of ballots ran through the AccuVote.

The AccuVote is an optical scan machine that tabulates the votes cast on each ballot and stores them on a memory card (storage device). This system has been used in Lassen County since November of 2000, and has proven to be one of the most reliable systems approved for use by state and federal authorities. The best part of this system: THE PAPER BALLOT IS THE OFFICIAL RECORD. Because the ballot is cast on paper, each vote can be hand counted and verified.

After the envelopes are opened, the ballots are separated from the envelopes, again ensuring the names and addresses are face down. Once the ballots are removed, a rubber band is placed around the empty envelopes in batches of 25 and set aside. The ballots are then opened and unfolded, after a double check of the count.

Ballots are scanned through an AccuVote optical scanner, which tallies the votes and stores the ballots in a secure enclosure.

A printout (tape) is automatically printed when the memory card is inserted and the AccuVote is turned on, verifying there are no votes on the memory card. Two to three clerks are required to sign the tape.

As ballots are inserted into the AccuVote, the memory card keeps a tally of how many ballots are inserted. This number is continually compared to the numbers noted on the handwritten log.

After the ballots are tallied, they are boxed, sealed and identified for storage. All ballot material is preserved in a secure location for a minimum of 18 months.

No votes are counted, only the number of ballots received, until 8 PM on election night. At 8 PM on election night, the memory cards are uploaded into GEMS (Global Election Management System). The results are tallied, released to the public, and reported to the California Secretary of State.

After the election, we conduct a detailed audit of all ballots printed, voted, spoiled and rejected throughout the county…but that is another story.

On a final note, one of the most-asked-questions I receive is, “What if I only vote for one race, will my vote still count if I do not vote the entire ballot?” Answer: YES. You are not required to vote every race. You can only vote on what you are interested in, and that vote will count. I encourage you to educate yourself on the candidates and issues and VOTE!

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