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The Globe Visits Sacramento County Elections Office

With California’s all-mail-ballot election in California, the life cycle of a ballot is a fascinating process

By Katy Grimes, October 27, 2020 10:03 am

With the 2020 Election taking place as the first all-mail-in-ballots under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order, many are not sure about the process. Regular Absentee voters aren’t confused, but for voters who always vote in person, this is odd and they want to know what happens to their ballot after they drop it off.

Monday I visited Sacramento County’s Voter Registraton and Election office to learn what happens after a mail-in ballot is dropped off.

What I witnessed was a sophisticated production process replete with checks and double checks.

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, and Assistant Registrar of Voters Hang Nguyen, provided a one-on-one tour of the facility and said 885,993 ballots have been mailed in Sacramento County, with 300,000 already returned as of Monday.

Bailey-Kanelos And Nguyen have been with the county voters and elections office for 16 and 8 years respectively. They said they’ve worked through the paper ballot system up to the all-mail-in highly technical ballot system.

Nguyen said of the 885,993 mailed ballots, some of those may be re-sends. I asked how they keep track of ballots re-issued so both cannot be used to cast votes. She explained that on the ballot mailing envelope and the return envelope is a bar code; the number #1 at the end of the return ballot bar code. The second ballot has a #2 at the end, and the first one is cancelled from the system.

We started in the office where ballots collected from the more than 170 official collection boxes around the county are sorted by precinct. Those ballots go next to employees operating the machines that slice open the return envelope, and a poof of air allows the operator to life the ballot out, while a second operator separates but saves the envelope, which are used later for audits.

The ballots are scanned into the computer system, and voter signatures on the envelope are matched to the voter’s signature in the county elections system. If the operator feels the signatures don’t match, the voter is mailed a new signature page, which they fill out and send back.

Deep inside of the elections offices is a production center which resembles the production process in a printing plant. Operators feed ballot return envelopes in stacks into a large machine which scans them, and separates by batches and precincts. Other operators act as auditors along the way. And there are phone banks of employees taking calls about the process.

There are employees in teams of two who analyze the actual ballot for any votes “X’d” out as a mistake, looking for voter intent. If they cannot make out the voter intent, it is left blank.

All of these operations are monitored by “Big Brother” – cameras in every room, from several angles.

Tallies and results are not announced until 8:00pm on Election Day. Election night returns are the totals already received via mail.

More than 170 Vote Center locations opened October 24th, and are located throughout the county. Even more are opening October 31st. They are listed at the Sacramento County Voter Registration and Elections website.

You may also vote in person at a Vote Center which started 10 days before Election Day.

Any voter in Sacramento County can visit any vote center and residents that are eligible but not yet registered to vote can register at any of the Vote Centers. All mailed ballots must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on November 3.

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4 thoughts on “The Globe Visits Sacramento County Elections Office

    1. The reason I went on the tour is because a lot of the information coming from the office was conflicting. They had to staff up quickly and I think not everyone working the phones is 100% trained.

  1. THANK you for the field visit & report Katy…

    I was a poll worker for 2016 and was impressed with the Ventura County ballot processing security procedures….

  2. Examine the complete system to find the fraud. I have little doubt all the fraud happens before the ballots get to this super secure room.

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