"Elections are a year-round process"

There is an excellent opinion piece in today’s Santa Cruz Sentinel, authored by Santa Cruz County election chief Gail Pellerin. In it, she details the hard work associated with running an election in California, like last week’s special election, giving one perspective on the practical and logistical difficulties associated with running an election of this magnitude.

Some helpful excerpts:

A peek behind the scenes reveals the magnitude of the task of conducting a statewide election. The numbers are staggering to prepare for what appears to be a one-day event, but in reality is a multi-month endeavor. For the Nov. 8 Special Statewide Election, more than 15 million sample-ballot booklets were proofed, printed and mailed to each registered voter weeks ago by the state’s 58 county election officials. Millions of official ballots were similarly prepared for voters’ decisions. More than 4.5 million absentee ballots were mailed to voters, including to Californians residing in the farthest reaches of the globe, from Baghdad to Zanzibar. Statewide, nearly 25,000 polling places were reserved and readied, and more than 100,000 poll workers underwent training to serve voters on Election Day. Election officials continually train, test and plan for every contingency to deliver a seamless — and seemingly effortless — operation.

Accuracy and ballot security are of paramount importance. Gone are the days of dimpled and pregnant chads, as election officials convert to more modern methods of casting and tabulating votes. All voting systems in use in California have been extensively tested and certified for accuracy by the secretary of state. New electronic voting systems used in California must also obtain federal qualification before undergoing state certification. County election officials undertake additional tests to confirm the accuracy of certified ballot tabulating software and voting machines to ensure every vote is counted correctly. Where electronic voting machines are in use, the equipment is never connected to the Internet and cannot be accessed online.

Accuracy is achieved several weeks later after the completion of the total ballot tally and certification of official election results. Voters are often unaware that typically 10 to 20 percent of ballots cast statewide are counted in the days following the election. These include hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots that were not received until Election Day that must be individually signature verified prior to opening and counting; and provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility was not able to be established when they appeared at the voting precincts and must be researched.

California law permits 28 days to complete the final, official canvass of the vote. This process entails a meticulous review and reconciliation of all ballots and processes. A key part of the canvass includes a visual inspection and manual count of at least 1 percent of the ballots cast to verify computer-generated vote totals. And, rest assured, all valid ballots are counted; no ballots are ever thrown out. In fact, all election materials for a statewide election must be retained for six months, and if a federal contest is on the ballot, materials are retained for 22 months.