Submitted by Brad Gerbel
Last week, I spent the afternoon at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters (“ROV”) office in Kearny Mesa as an invited guest to attend the public Location and Accuracy Testing of the ballot counting equipment. I was one of nine people in attendance.
The test was conducted by the Registrar of Voters, Michael Vu, and three of his top people. To my surprise, Mr. Vu was with us the whole time and was willing to answer all of our questions. I had a lot of questions.
Ballots received at the ROV are first checked for signatures using an automated system to check the signature against what they have in their system. The envelopes are opened by machine and the ballots are loaded into “pizza boxes,” cardboard boxes that resemble a pizza box or what a new computer keyboard comes in, 200 ballots per box. The boxes are all labeled and have a unique barcode.
The pizza boxes are taken to another room where the votes are counted. The ROV has eight $200,000 counting machines that have been in use since this year’s primary election. The eight machines can process a total of 100,000 ballots per day.
Ballot counting machines in California are not standard, but there are only a few companies that make these kinds of machines.
The votes are counted and uploaded into their system, which is not connected to the Internet, which guards against hacking. Mr. Vu said not even he knows what the vote tally is until the polls close on Election Day.
Each of the nine members of the public voted using three types of ballots: mail-in, poll, and electronic. We manually counted the ballots and then sent them into the counting machines. The machine counts matched our manual counts.
The non-public Location and Accuracy test is done with 60,000 test ballots; this test was conducted before they started counting ballots for this election.
My personal feeling, after talking to Mr. Vu, is that you will help the system if you take the time to vote early. A benefit to voting early is that your votes will be included in the initial vote counts on Election Day.
The ROV makes every effort to qualify each signature, but if you don’t sign your ballot envelope or your signature does not match, the ROV will send you a letter in the mail and you will have until December 1st to resolve signature issues with the ROV and still have your vote count.
If you don’t know where to vote, you can go to www.sdvote.com and look up your polling place. The polls will be open October 31 through November 2, 8 am to 5 pm. On November 3 the polls will be open 7 am to 8 pm. If you vote at an electronic touch screen device at the poll, please note that you will be given a stylus and you must press much harder than you do, say typing on your iPhone. Press hard! The votes made on a voting machine are printed on a piece of paper at the polling location and that piece of paper is scanned at the ROV. The voting machines do not store anyone’s vote.
Ballots are maintained a the ROV for twenty-two months following the election. They are stored in the “pizza boxes” that I mentioned earlier.
The ROV has systems in place to make sure people don’t vote twice. If someone votes at the poll and also returns the mail-in ballot, the matter is referred to the District Attorney’s office. I was told this does happen.
I walked away from the ROV with a good feeling, that our San Diego County elections are being run professionally. I found Michael Vu to be very serious about his job, as we should expect. I also found him to be personable and willing to share his knowledge. He has an important job, to make sure that the over 1.9 million registered voters in San Diego County all have their votes counted properly.