Ballot box worries: Some local voters concerned about mail-in-ballot privacy; county says no issue exists
Some Nevada County residents are expressing concerns that the confidentiality of some votes for California’s gubernatorial recall election could be undermined by a purported issue with mail-in-ballot envelopes, even as the county’s election officials offer assurances that the integrity of mail-in-votes has not been compromised.
Natalie Adona, Nevada County’s assistant clerk-recorder/registrar of voters, said in an email that the county’s elections office has received some complaints from voters about the hole punched into the envelope that mail-in voters put their ballot into. The main such complaint, Adona said, has been that the envelope hole may allow for someone handling the ballot, such as a postal worker or ballot box volunteer, to see which bubbles a voter filled in for their ballot, revealing how that person voted.
Adona said that the county elections office has received around 20 phone complaints so far in relation to this issue, but she emphasized that these concerns are unfounded, as it is virtually impossible for anyone to see how a ballot was filled out through the envelope hole.
The ballots were mailed this week. The election is Sept. 14.
The elections office has physically inspected all of the returned mail-in-ballots processed thus far, and there wasn’t a single case found where someone’s vote could be seen through the envelope, Adona said. Additionally, a concerned voter can easily ensure that their vote can’t be seen simply by flipping their ballot over in a way where only the blank side of the ballot is visible through the envelope hole.
“If a voter is concerned, they can insert or fold their ballot in a way that ensures them that no contests appear…we’ve advised voters to either fold the ballot the other way or flip it to the blank side,” she said, noting that most of the people who called the elections office were satisfied by this option.
Nevada County resident Sue Ramey said the envelope hole is problematic and needs to be thoroughly addressed by the county, which can reassure voters who may be concerned about election integrity.
Before she mailed in her ballot, Ramey said she noticed that her own vote was visible through the envelope hole, which made her concerned. With a number of different ways that unsuspecting voters might fold their ballots into the envelopes, Ramey said that even if it’s a small chance, the risk that the envelope hole could expose how someone voted is still too high for her.
Ramey said that just the possibility that votes could be determined in this way made her worry that an “unscrupulous” individual handling the ballots could possibly tamper with her ballot in some way.
“It behooves the people responsible for having ballots printed to ensure that an unscrupulous person handling the envelopes couldn’t see the votes and say, ‘That’s not the way I want people to vote, so I’m going to make this ballot disappear,’” Ramey said.
She opined that given the level of controversy regarding claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, county officials should be going above and beyond to eliminate any question marks at all that voters have about the security of their ballots.
“I’m not a conspiracy person and I’m not taking a stance on the presidential race…but you think that they would be extra careful, especially on the heels of last year’s election and that controversy…If they wanted to make the case that elections are carefully protected and absolutely truthful, they wouldn’t have made a mistake like this,” Ramey said.
In addition to expressing her office’s confidence that none of the ballots returned so far had been compromised, Adona also emphasized that virtually all election offices in California, including Nevada County’s office, have been using this same exact type of envelope with the hole for the past 20 years without issue.
She also noted that the envelope hole is considered best practices by election officials for numerous reasons. The holes make opening the envelope more accessible to visually impaired voters when they first receive their ballot, and it also helps those handling the ballots confirm that it doesn’t get left in the envelope when it is processed.
“The holes in the vote-by-mail ballot envelopes…are a quality assurance measure that serves as a visual double check so that our teams extracting ballots know the ballot has been extracted and not left inside an envelope uncounted,” Adona said.
In most cases, she said that callers concerned about the envelope hole issue were satisfied once they heard her office’s explanation of the matter. Voters who are still worried about the integrity of mail-in-ballots despite these assurances also have the options to either cast their ballot in-person at a county voting center or use ballot drop boxes approved by the county, Adona added.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com
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