In the days following Tuesday’s recall election, officials from the Santa Barbara County Elections Division remain hard at work counting the last few thousand ballots submitted by mail and at the polls.
On Wednesday, Joseph Holland, the county’s registrar of voters, estimated that more than 146,000 ballots had been cast in the recall election. Of these, more than 105,000 were counted as of Tuesday night, and volunteers have been working throughout this week to get the remaining 41,000 ballots counted and reported.
According to Renee Bischof, the chief deputy registrar of voters, the Elections Department plans to release updated election results on Monday afternoon, which will include an update on the total number of ballots received. She said the division will not know the county’s final results until the election is certified locally, which will occur on Oct. 15.
Until the official certification, officials with the Elections Division will remain at work in the lower level of the elections building, completing the multi-step process that each ballot moves through before being counted. The process followed by the Elections Division is intended to ensure that ballots are tallied accurately and securely.
When a ballot arrives at the Elections Division, it goes through a two-part verification process using a special processing machine. In the first step, the machine captures a digital image of each ballot envelope, including the signature on the outside, and sorts each ballot into supervisorial districts. The data collected from the digital image is then filed into the election management system, where each signature is validated and matched with the voter’s record.
These signatures are then verified a second time when the ballots are inserted into the machine once more. During this second batch, the machine sorts each ballot into one of two groups — one group that is verified and ready to move on to the next phase of the process, and another group that warrants further review.
Ms. Bischof said sometimes ballots will need further review during this step because voters forgot to sign their ballot or the signature on the ballot does not match the name on the ballot. When this happens, the Elections Division carefully reviews each ballot and sends a note to voters who forgot to sign the ballot. The voter can then return the letter with a signature to verify that their ballot was turned in.
“We have a number of measures in place, not only in our county but across the state, that will allow a voter to cure any issues with their ballots in order for us to be able to count it,” Ms. Bischof told the News-Press.
After ballots move through the verification phase, the envelopes are sliced open using a machine and manually flattened for tabulation. During this phase, officials check that the ballots are not damaged and can be read by the tabulation machine.
If there are damages, officials are able to fill out a duplicate ballot that can run through the scanner in place of the original ballot. Officials explained that when a ballot is duplicated, the original is voided to ensure it is not run through the system and counted twice.
Once flattened, the ballots are then moved on to the tabulation phase. At this step, stacks of ballots are loaded into machines that read each ballot and record its data. Once each stack is processed, the ballots are placed in boxes, sealed and stored on shelves.
This multi-step process helps to ensure that the elections are completed accurately and securely, Ms. Bischof said.
“California has some of the most stringent requirements on voting and voting systems and our processes,” Ms. Bischof said. “And I find that our election system is highly secure.”
She noted that in addition to these procedures, the voting system is not connected to the internet, which is a common claim and concern among individuals who have alleged election fraud in the past. Each tabulating scanner is directly connected to a tubulation server with a cable, and the server is kept inside a locked room that requires badge access.
While the multi-faceted process essentially ensures that each ballot is counted securely and accurately, elections officials say people tend to have misperceptions about the process because of claims they hear about elections in other states.
“I think a lot of misconceptions, perceptions, issues and concerns about security (comes from) what has happened in other states,” Elaina Cano, the county’s elections division manager, told the News-Press. “(People think) it also has that potential or it’s happening here in California.”
“I think it’s important for people to understand that each state has their own election laws and regulations that govern their state,” she continued. “And that’s why you don’t hear anything out of the state of California. You might hear from other states that have a lot of concerns being brought forward, but California has so many strict guidelines that we need to abide by. Not every state governs the same, and I think (there) certainly is this perception with voters that if it’s happening in Georgia, it’s happening here and it’s happening everywhere.”
Elections officials welcome all local residents interested in observing the counting process to take a tour any time during business hours. The Elections Division is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located at 4440-A Calle Real.
For more information on the recall election results and the county’s Elections Division, visit countyofsb.org/care/elections.