The journey of the postal ballot: how your vote counts
The vast majority of San Diego voters cast their ballots by mail, while others cast them in person or in a drop box. So what happens to your vote after you’ve cast it?
Under a new model under the California Voting Rights Act, voters can vote in person in any of San Diego C218 polling stations of the district by post or in the official box.
All registered voters began receiving ballots in the mail the week of October 10. They must return them by Election Day, Nov. 8, but the sooner the better, said Cynthia Paes, the county’s registrar of voters.
“We ask voters: do not delay, do not wait until election day,” Paes said. “Make your choice, seal your ballot in a protective envelope.”
Voters can drop their ballots into a ballot box, drop them off at a vote center, or mail them to a registrar through the US Postal Service. “Sign your name on this envelope and send it back immediately,” Paes said.
After you’ve voted, here’s what happens to it.
Ballots are sorted
Packets of ballots arrive daily at the registrar’s office, from where they are sent to the mail sorter — still sealed in envelopes — for processing.
There, rows of machines scan the signatures on the envelopes and drop them into trays of 100 to 200. These trays go into secure storage, and the image on the envelope is sent to a signature verification team.
For each ballot, members of this team pick up the machine-scanned signature and compare it to the voter file signature on their registration record.
“We’ll have a team of trained election officials going over every signature on every envelope and doing side-by-side comparisons,” Paes said.
If the signature does not match the one registered, the registrar sends the voter a letter explaining the situation and asking them to sign and return a form confirming that the signature is theirs and that they actually voted with their ballot.
Once the signature has been verified, it is sent to the extraction room, where workers remove the ballots from the envelopes either by hand or using extraction machines, then bag them and take them to the counting room.
If a ballot is damaged — torn or stained with coffee, for example — election staff will remake it so it can be scanned. Working in teams of two, they duplicate the exact choices from the original ballot on a new sheet.
“They have one calling the contest and another marking the ballot,” Paes said. “Then they change places, check the work. When the ballot is filled, they print it.”
Both the original and the altered ballot are coded, she said, “so during a recount or recall, that original can always be pulled so you can see the voter’s original marks.”
Votes are being counted
The ballots are then tabulated by vote counting machines. For weeks, the final vote counts are scanned into the system, but no one sees them — not even the registrar — until election night. Shortly after the polling stations closed at 20.00, the first results became known.
Meanwhile, poll workers from the county’s 218 polling places are packing and delivering in-person ballots and mail-in ballots to polling places on Election Day. Those ballots are counted and reported later on election night, and the rest of the results will be tabulated and released in the coming days.
Voters can track their votes at registrar’s website in https://www.sdvote.com/content/rov/en/elections/wheres-my-ballot.html. Teams of two workers are involved in each step of the process to ensure accuracy and safety.
“And remember, every step of this process is being watched publicly,” Paes said. “Observers from companies, from political parties, from organized groups or just individuals can come and observe these processes.”