Opinion: Why does it take so long to process remaining ballots?
County Clerk-Recorder has until July 7 to conclude the canvass, certify the election
– Inquiring minds want to know, why does it take so long to process and count the approximate 42,000 Vote-By-Mail (VBM) ballots, and what exactly is the “process?”
Let’s start with a brief timeline:
- April 28 – Every household with an active registered voter was mailed the State Voter Information Guide. This guide provided information that pertained to Federal and State offices, candidates, dates, and deadlines.
- May 9 – Every active, registered voter (approximately 186,000) was mailed a Vote-By-Mail ballot, along with the County Voter Information Guide and a postage-paid return envelope.
- May 9 – SLO County Elections opened their front counters Monday – Friday in both the San Luis Obispo and Atascadero locations to better assist those needing to register to vote, update their voter registration information, provide voters with a replacement ballot, and allow voters to put their ballot in the ballot box.
- May 18 – Election staff began processing of VBM ballots received thus far.
- May 21 – (Saturday), SLO County Elections opened their offices to provide voters an additional day to receive all of the opportunities they would receive if coming during the weekday.
- June 4 – (Saturday), same opportunities they would receive if coming during the weekday.
- June 6 – Approximate number of VBM’s received to date 46,000. * This number does not equate to VBM’s counted.
- June 7 – Election day – Turnout at the polls 2,366 voters. VBM’s returned at the polls, by mail, dropbox or in-person was approximately 48,000. There were more VBMs turned in in a 24-hour period than there were the 28-days leading up to election day.
So, how are votes counted?
- The first results are posted shortly after 8 p.m. – these are the Vote by Mail ballots that were returned and processed prior to Election Day.
- As polling places report in, their results are tabulated and compiled into countywide results.
- When all polling places have reported, the election night counting is completed; however, there are still more ballots to count and a lot more work to do before the results become official.
What about the VBM ballots received after Election Day?
- “Last Minute” Vote by Mail Ballots that arrive on Election Day either by mail, returned at a polling place or deposited in a Ballot Drop Box, are verified, processed and counted in the days after Election Day.
- Postmarked Vote by Mail Ballots: Under California law, ballots may be processed even if they arrive after Election Day, as long as they are received by mail no later than 7 days after the election and are postmarked on or before Election Day.
- Missing or Mismatched Signature: A voter’s signature on the returned vote-by-mail identification envelope must compare with the signature(s) in the voter’s registration record. If the voter did not sign the ballot envelope, or if the elections official has determined that the signature on the envelope does not compare to the signature(s) of the voter in the voter’s record, the Elections Office will, provide the voter with the applicable notice to cure the missing or mismatched signature. This notice must be returned to the Elections Office no later than 2 days prior to the certification of the election. As of today, there are approximately 700 mismatched signatures and 40 missing a signature. This number may change as staff continues to process the VBM envelopes.
- Provisional Ballots: These are the last ballots counted because they must be researched and verified; it may take a few weeks, but every valid vote will be counted.
What does it mean to “process” the VBM envelopes and ballots?
Elaina Cano, County Clerk-Recorder, explained that processing the VBM ballots takes a significant amount of time. This process is based on accuracy, not speed. This process includes, scanning every VBM envelope, verifying every voter’s signature, checking the ballot (1 ballot = 2 cards) for identifiable marks and/or damage to the ballot itself.
With this election’s ballot being 2-cards, the number of cards to be processed, counted, and adjudicated is all doubled. Depending on the number of staff available and the number of ballots that need to be adjudicated, election staff may process approximately 2,000 – 4,000 ballots and count approximately 6,000 ballots = 12,000 cards.
Although the adjudication process allows for efficient processing of ballots that require resolution of voter intent, it is the most time-consuming. This process requires a team of two to make the determinations. There can be up to four teams adjudicating at once. If ever there is a question of voter intent, election management staff is called to make a determination. If no determination can be made, the voter’s choice is accepted as is. All ballots needing adjudication must be processed before any results can be published. Once this process is completed, new results are posted. Updates are posted at the conclusion of the counting of ballots for the day at www.slovote.com.
The County Clerk-Recorder has until July 7 to conclude the canvass and certify the election.
The public is welcome to observe all of the canvass processes, which are held at the San Luis Obispo Election’s office in the County Government Center located at 1055 Monterey St, Rm D120. Due to a limited amount of space however, observers may be required to observe on a rotating basis to allow everyone access.
Counting will resume on Tuesday, June 14, at 9 a.m. If anyone has questions, contact the Elections Division at (805) 781-5228.
Sent by the San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder’s Office