All-mail balloting is new in California as well as online ballot tracking to see if your voting choices made it to the local elections office. But the latter also led to widespread confusion.
Social media was abuzz this week as voters went online to read that “Your ballot was received by your county elections office and will be counted” and assumed that “will” means “not yet” counted. Not necessarily so said Donna Linder, Registrar of Voters in Stanislaus County.
“Ballottrax stops once we have verified your signature,” said Linder. “That’s the last.”
The Ballottrax system, which is offered by the California Secretary of State’s office, never reports when the ballot is actually counted.
Linder explained that the process for the receipt and handling of ballots is that the bar code on the envelope is scanned by an elections worker with a hand-scanner similar to one at a grocery store check-out.
“That tells our system that you voted and it attaches your ballot to your signature so we can verify your signature. Once your signature is verified and it’s good, then Ballottrax sends you this thing that says ‘will be counted.’”
Ballots are sorted by type, such as by city or district, and then the ballot is opened and separated from the envelope.
“There’s nothing else to connect it,” said Linder. “If it says ‘will be counted’ chances are it’s been counted because it’s counted the next day or the day after.”
Linder’s staff got a head start on counting ballots that arrived at her department early. California allows counties to begin counting ballots 10 days before the election. Ballots were sent out the week of Oct. 5. Those ballots have been counted first while those arriving through the mail or dropped off on Election Day are usually counted last.
Not all ballots have been counted yet. As of Thursday, another 73,000 vote-by-mail ballots had yet to be counted. That number was expected to drop by another 3,000 by Friday.
As of Friday, 139,106 ballots had been received in Modesto out of 279,730 registered voters in Stanislaus County for a 49.73 percent voter turnout.
“A lot of our voters voted in advance. We had 73,000 vote-by-mail ballots and then the people who registered last-minute. That’s actually not that many more than we had in 2018. In 2018 we had 67,000 vote-by-mail ballots and 11,000 provisional (ballots).”
Senate Bill 423 authored by Democrat Senator Tom Umberg requires local elections offices to accept and count ballots up to 17 days after the election provided they are postmarked no later than Election Day. Previously it was three days.
“It extended that time frame, I guess, to make people feel better about, you know, because they were so concerned the post office would be overrun with vote-by-mail ballots. And I thought, ‘you do know that over half of the state of California is already vote-by-mail?’ so I don’t know why we’re worried about it.”
The same bill dictates the number of drop-off boxes and satellite offices that each county must provide, Linder said.
A fair amount of confusion has also stemmed from the election results reported on the county Elections website, www.stanvote.com. Linder said the actual percentage of votes cast is not reflected in data. Instead, the website reports the number of precincts “counted.” However, a precinct is listed if a single ballot from that precinct is counted.
“They’ll say 100 percent of the precincts have reported but not 100 percent of the ballots. So, 100 percent of the precincts just means we’re counted something for every precinct.”
The vote counts will continue to change as ballots are being counted.