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The Life Cycle of a Sacramento County Ballot

The California county is working hard to increase transparency about its voting processes amid the rise in conspiracy theories and occasional violence by offering tours of the election office.

(TNS) — If Sacramento County, Calif., Elections Manager Karalyn Fox could tell voters one thing, it would be this: “If you have questions, come observe the process. Get your answers here.”

It seems like a simple request. But in the post-2020 era of skepticism so severe it’s metamorphosed into wild conspiracy theories and occasional violence, the work that officials like Fox are doing to make elections more transparent matters.

“We are really hard workers,” she said. “We want election integrity.”

The Voter Registration and Elections Office has taken just about every imaginable step to detail for voters what happens to their ballot — especially since more people than ever are mailing them or using drop boxes before the election. One such step is a thorough tour of the county elections office and follow-up Q&A sessions.

For those unable to attend in-person, The Sacramento Bee went for you.

The Process

If you didn’t use the U.S. Postal Service and took your ballot instead it to a voting center or drop box, its journey begins with a team of two election staffers — everything is done in pairs, no one goes alone — in an AirTagged county vehicle. They collect them and drive to an unassuming office building in an unassuming part of South Sacramento, just off Florin Road, around the corner from the Walmart Supercenter.

The county elections office is as anodyne as any other county facility, only on the inside, its employees are doing some of the most important work they’ll do all year.

Ballots are sorted by precinct and run through an industrial mail sorter called the BlueCrest machine. It scans the bar code on the ballot envelope and captures the signature, too. Election staff compare the signatures with those on voter registration forms to make sure they match.

Next, the ballots are separated from their pink envelopes by a high speed extractor — monitored, again, by pairs of election staff — and then checked by the Duplication Team. At this point, ballots are entirely anonymous, no longer linked in any way to the voter, but are still bundled by precinct.

The Duplication Team looks for any potential damage to, or writing on, the ballot that might cause problems when it’s tabulated — like tearing, or use of red pen — that may warrant a duplication. If necessary, the team will put the information on a clean ballot so that it can be tabulated.

In a separate room with a 24/7 livestream available to anyone, ballots are put through the tabulator machine. If something is unclear — a vote is crossed out and re-done, for example — a team of adjudicators will assess the ballot for voter intent.

Ballot tabulators are used in over 90 percent of election jurisdictions in the United States and are widely regarded as both accurate and efficient. This has not stopped conspiracy theories — reinforced by former President Donald Trump and those who believe the 2020 election was stolen from him — from spreading. Namely, Trump and his supporters thought that the machines were rigged.

“With the turn of a dial or the change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and it goes to Biden,” Trump said in December 2020.

No credible evidence of such tampering has surfaced.

To be certain, election officials will conduct a software verification process called the Logic and Accuracy Test before they begin to make sure the tabulators are working correctly. And per California Election Code, 1 percent of ballots must be manually counted to verify that the machines are in order— typically the Monday following the day of the election.

Fox said that people used to getting all the answers by the end of election night are surprised to learn that the county has 29 days to verify election results. What’s reported on election night is simply a prediction.

“Nothing is official until we certify the election,” she said.

It Takes ‘A Big Heart’ To Be a Poll and Election Worker

Election officials really, really want people to vote.

They want voters to be empowered with all the information available. They are invested in their community members having access to the civic process. They say that would not be possible without temporary election staff and volunteer poll workers — the hardworking people behind every fevered accusation of voter fraud.

“They get the accusations thrown at them, and it’s a long day on election day, for not much money. And they come back election after election,” said Kenji Furukawa, fellow election manager for Sacramento County who supervises precinct operations.

Linda Hogge, election assistant, says the camaraderie among election staff is the best part of coming back in an election season.

“We love this work. I have a great team. They’re super supportive, and very conscientious,” she said.

Hogge said if she could pass along one message to those getting ready to cast their ballots, it would be almost as straightforward as what Fox had to say:

“Make sure you read your voter guide.”

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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