Counting mail-in ballots takes time, Nevada County officials say | TheUnion.com

Counting mail-in ballots takes time, Nevada County officials say

It takes two to four hours to tally 200 to 300 mail-in ballots, local elections officials estimated.

That process takes many steps and involves a handful of people. Each envelope containing a ballot is at many points held by hand. Signatures on those envelopes are checked by a machine, leading to some not matching elections office records. That requires officials to contact those voters. Other ballots are damaged and must be remade.

Nevada County estimated after the June 5 election that it had about 15,000 uncounted mail-in ballots. Days later, on Monday, it had counted about 5,400 of them. The next update is scheduled for today and another for next week.

"This is completely normal and everything is going along smoothly," said Teal Caddy, clerk-recorder assistant II. "We want to do it right the first time."

Some people are chiding local elections officials for taking this long to release results. Ed Scofield, chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, said he was disappointed.

"For future elections, I would be looking at what our options might be," Scofield said.

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Nevada County is one of five counties that implemented the Voter's Choice Act for this month's election, the first time for the pilot program. Under the act every registered voter was mailed a vote-by-mail ballot. Traditional polling locations were replaced by vote centers, where any voter could drop off their ballot or cast theirs on a machine.

Sandy Sjoberg, assistant clerk-recorder/registrar of voters, referenced the November 2016 election when asked about the time required to tally all the votes.

In that election over 24,000 uncounted ballots remained after election day. Officials counted all ballots and certified their election days before the deadline.

All California counties have 30 days from the election to certify their vote.

"This is what we've always had," Sjoberg said of the time required to count ballots. "There is no difference."

The process

Elections officials start the process of counting ballots by stamping the envelopes with the date they arrive. When tallying, they tear off each envelopes' security flap. Between 200 and 300 envelopes are loaded into a signature verification machine, Sjoberg and Caddy said.

A report is then printed listing the envelopes with signatures that don't match election records.

Officials manually check the envelopes with bad signatures, contacting voters to check them.

Envelopes that pass the signature check are placed in a yellow bucket for sorting. Once sorted, teams of two open envelopes with good signatures and remove the ballots. They turn the envelope, hiding the mailing address from them. They ensure only the ballot is inside. The workers then place rubber bands around the empty envelopes.

Employees must then check each ballot for anything that could leave residue on the vote scanner. Damaged ballots are duplicated by hand. Any issues, like someone casting two votes in the same race, must be resolved. The ballots are then scanned into the elections office's system.

Caddy said people are surprised to learn about the manually intensive vote-count process.

"There is a process to it," Caddy said. "Would someone want us to be careless with the ballot?"

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.