Text that says Voter Update next to official Clerk-Recorder seal

SLO County Elections Office Summarizes Post-Election Activity

Author: Erin Clausen
Date: 3/14/2024 3:55 PM

Elections in California are notoriously slow -- but accurate. The SLO County Clerk-Recorder's Office breaks down why, and what to expect over the next couple of weeks.

Elections in California have a reputation for accuracy but not necessarily speed. Why is that? The answer lies in the variety of ways Californians have to vote, as well as in the steps each county must legally take to ensure that every vote is counted accurately. The SLO County Elections Office has developed the following timeline and explanation of the process so that local voters know what to expect, including when results will be released and why they change throughout the days leading up to certification.

By law, Tuesday, March 12 was the final day for vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day to arrive at the Elections Office to be counted. In addition to VBM ballots delivered to local polls or mailed by voters, the Elections Office has also received SLO County ballots delivered by March 5 to polling locations and Elections Offices in other counties throughout the state, as is allowed per California Elections Code.

The Clerk-Recorder has 30 days from Election Day to certify the election results, including weekends; for this election, that deadline falls on April 4. All ballot processing and tabulating must be open to the public, however, so while some staff may work on weekends, certain steps can only be taken during business hours. Once other critical steps are taken into account, such as immediately inventorying all materials returned from the polls, the Elections Office really only has about 16 business days to complete a lengthy list of tasks. These include:

  • Roster scanning and balancing
    • Every poll voter signs a precinct roster on Election Day; immediately following (and before any further VBM ballots can be processed), staff scan each signature and update the voter’s record.
    • Roster totals are checked against ballot inventory to confirm that signatures and totals balance.
  • Forwarding VBM ballots to other counties (and receiving and processing those sent here)
    • As allowed by law, VBM ballots may be delivered to any polling place, Vote Center, or Elections Office in the state until 8:00 pm on Election Day. That means that in the days following, we must sort through, find, and forward ballots cast here from other counties; we also receive and process those sent to SLO County.
  • Provisional ballot research and verification
    • Provisional ballots are those cast in person by voters who require “same-day” registration, who vote at a precinct other than their own, or who may have already cast a VBM ballot prior to Election Day (inadvertently or not). As a result, these provisional ballots must be thoroughly researched to determine the eligibility of the voter and to confirm that it is the only vote cast by that voter. This takes the most time, and therefore these ballots are the last ones tabulated.
  • VBM ballot scanning
    • Once poll rosters have been scanned and balanced, all VBM ballots received on or after Election Day must be scanned to capture those voters’ signatures.
  • VBM signature checks
    • Each scanned signature is then checked by staff against the voter’s record, which includes all signatures on file, to confirm a match.
  • Signature curing
    • In cases where a signature does not match or is questionable, staff take steps to determine whether it was a case of an inadvertent swap with another person in the household, or if the voter’s signature has perhaps changed over time. In many cases, the voter is contacted and asked to provide updated information to “cure” the ballot signature. Voters contacted with this request have eight days to cure their signature.
  • VBM ballot processing (removing from envelopes, checking for identifying marks, bundling)
    • Once several thousand envelopes have gone through scanning and the signatures have been confirmed, those envelopes are run through a machine that opens them.
    • Opened envelopes are then sorted through by temporary elections staff, who remove the ballot, check for identifying marks, damaged ballots, red ink (which won’t be seen by the tabulator), or the occasional blank ballot, and then bundle into sets of 50 those that are ready to be counted.
    • Any ballots that are torn, otherwise damaged, or marked in an ink that won’t scan are duplicated by a team of two people and those duplicates replace the originals.
  • Tabulating
    • Staff run ballots through the tabulators in batches of 200 (four stacks of 50), carefully documenting, labeling, and securing storing every batch. Because of this careful process, a single ballot from among many thousands can be found and pulled quickly from storage in the event of a recount, for example.
  • Adjudication
    • Once ballots have been scanned, the tabulator flags and sorts those that need to be adjudicated by teams of two staff to determine the voter’s intent. Reasons for adjudication can be light or sloppy marking, over votes (voting for more than one candidate in a contest that calls for one vote, for instance), undervoting, or casting a vote using the write-in line. Every single write-in vote, whether it is for a qualified candidate or simply someone voting for their friend or neighbor, must be adjudicated before it can be counted. In the current election, many voters opted to write in the name of a candidate from another party, for instance, and these unfortunately must be reviewed and rejected.
  • Reporting Results
    • Once adjudicated, ballots are added to the results total, and updated results are released through the Clerk-Recorder’s website at slovote.com/March2024.
  • 1% Manual Tally
    • Finally, the California Elections Code also requires that all counties conduct a 1% Manual Tally to confirm the accuracy of the tabulating machines. Through this process, one percent of poll and VBM ballots are randomly selected to hand-count, assuring that all contests are represented, and compared against the machine results.
    • Teams of four people must hand count every single vote and arrive at the same total before results are compared to machine-generated reports.
    • This process is arduous and – in addition to eventually confirming the results of the machine tabulation – underscores the likelihood of human error, as it often requires multiple rounds of counting for the human tabulators to arrive at the same total as their partners.
    • The 1% manual tally was conducted on March 12 and 13 and included community observers. The results validated the machine tabulators.

Next count:

The Elections Office plans to resume counting and run the next set of ballots tomorrow, March 15. There will likely be two additional days of counting over approximately eight business days, and the Clerk-Recorder anticipates certifying the March 5, Presidential Primary Election on or about March 27, 2024.