How are mail-in ballots counted in California’s midterm elections?

On Election Day, mail-in ballots were marked, slipped into an envelope, signed and mailed, placed in a drop box or turned into a voting center. Their journey has only just begun.

When ballots arrive at the Orange County Voter Registry, a cavernous warehouse behind a cluster of nondescript office buildings in Santa Ana, they go through several stages before being counted — all open to public view. .

On Monday, Jeffrey Kontorovsky, ambassador to the Registrar of Electors, led five people on a tour of the facility to explain the process.

Five people walk through a ballot processing center

Jeffrey Kontorovsky, ambassador to the Orange County Registrar of Electors, leads observers on a tour of the facility.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Observers range from curious to skeptical. They have questions about drop box security, county voter roll updates and how ballots are processed when they arrive at the center, Kontorovsky said.

“It’s a detailed process,” he said. “I really want people to have the information. At the end of the tour, when people leave feeling better, that’s my favorite part.

Officials working daily since Election Day – except Sunday – have counted more than 878,000 ballots and still have more than 59,000 to count Wednesday night.

The processing of mail-in ballots that arrived on or before election day and those that were dropped off at polling centers is nearing completion. What remains are those dropped off in drop boxes on Nov. 8 and those who arrived in the mail within seven days of Election Day.

“It’s going to take time because we’re doing our job,” the Registrar of Electors said Bob Page. “We want it to be accurate and we want to make sure we don’t deprive anyone of their rights.”

Ballots are first organized by polling center or drop box, then fed into a machine that scans and takes a picture of the outside of the envelope with the voter’s signature. The image is transferred to a computer, allowing employees to match this signature with the one used by voters when registering. Workers zoom in on autographs to compare curves and loops.

Their screens are visible on large screens a few meters behind them, where representatives of political parties and the public can watch. Monday afternoon, about a dozen people were there to watch.

Some, like Kristin Manna, 51, a political consultant who works on Republican candidate campaigns, took notes looking for a template that might allow them to raise questions about how signatures were being reviewed.

“You can’t challenge the signatures, but you can challenge the process,” she said. Typically, this happens if an employee is moving too quickly or is concerned that they are not following regulations.

Several people sit at desks sorting ballots in a large facility

Employees process absentee ballots at the Orange County Registrar of Electors office in Santa Ana.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

If the signature does not match, the worker flags it for another employee to review. If it is still not adopted, the ballot goes to a third party who makes the final decision whether or not to accept it.

Envelopes that pass the signature test are fed into another machine and sliced ​​for employees to remove the ballots for inspection and scanning.

A man works on the ballot papers

Rick Barker duplicates overseas military ballots into machine-readable ballots at a processing facility in Santa Ana.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

“We’ve seen ballots arrive with something spilled on them, torn, even burned,” Kontorovsky said. These ballots are duplicated and then verified by another election worker before being counted.

Ballots with stray marks or other errors are reviewed and corrected.

A small group watched on a monitor as an employee corrected a ballot on which the voter had filled in both the “yes” and “no” boxes for Proposition 30, which would have imposed an income tax of more than $2 million to fund electricity incentives. vehicles and the prevention of forest fires. To show the intended choice, the voter circled the “yes” box, but the machine would not be able to read it.

A woman checks the ballots

Christine Cheney checks ballots at a processing center in Santa Ana.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

At the end of the day, the ballot data is tabulated, allowing the county to update its vote tally.

If a ballot is rejected, the Registrar contacts the voter by mail to give them a chance to remedy it by signing a document stating that they are legitimate. Some information about the voter, but not who they voted for, is accessible, and campaigns often go to great lengths to encourage them to groom the ballots. The deadline in Orange County is 5 p.m. on Nov. 22.

A man wearing a black cap that read “Make crime illegal again” stood outside the scanning room on Monday, closely watching a monitor as workers corrected errors on ballots.

He declined to give his name, but said he ran because he was “interested in the integrity of the election”.

“I feel better if I can see it myself,” he said.

Observation of the vote counting process is codified in state law, and Page began public tours this year to give people a better understanding of the operation.

Skepticism about mail-in voting grew in 2020 when then-President Trump made baseless allegations of widespread mail-in voting fraud, which has persisted this election cycle.

“I hope people see what we’re doing and address any concerns they might have,” Page said. “I mean, for some people it’s an emotional issue, so all we can really do is make sure we’re completely transparent.”

Vera Sun, 54, drove from Santa Monica to Santa Ana on Monday to observe the count. She heard about it during her solicitation for Democratic Rep. Katie Porter and initially thought it might be a way to help the campaign.

But when she arrived, she realized she didn’t have much to do except learn, she says.

A woman watches on a television screen

Heidi Keffer observes the signature verification process on a monitor.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

“It’s boring in a very satisfying way,” Sun said.

As workers and observers walked in and out of the warehouse on Monday, few glanced at a blackboard mounted high on the wall that shows the unofficial results of the 1970 general election when Ronald Reagan was running for president. post of governor.

Kontorovsky likes to point out the little history of his tours, which are open to the public without reservations, explaining that this is “how the elections went”.

A man in attendance offered his own take: “That’s where it worked.”

Leave a Comment