Voting by mail

Voting by mail


There has been a lot of discussion recently about voting by mail and the possibility of voter fraud. I have worked for Napa County Elections Department in every election over the past 20 years. One of the first things to know is there are 6,000 voting districts in the country. Every one of them is locally run by locally elected officials. There are state standards, but the elections are local.

A finite number of ballots are printed for any election. These ballots are kept securely under lock and key until they are distributed to the voters. The county knows exactly how many ballots were printed. If the county received more than this number of ballots, the election officials would notice.

Over the past decade or more, many voters have chosen to vote by mail. As a result, Napa County is now 100% vote by mail. We have Voter Assistance Centers open 10 days before Election Day to facilitate voting. Voters can come into the Voter Assistance Centers for assistance with any difficulty relating to their ballots: if they did not receive their ballot in the mail; if their ballot was lost or mislaid; if they have moved and need to change their address; if they made a mistake on their ballot; or have lost their envelope; if they want to change political parties; if they want to register to vote; or if they simply want to drop their ballot off.

If a voter has made an error on their ballot which cannot be easily or clearly corrected, they can bring the ballot to the Voter Assistance Center and receive a clean ballot. The old ballot must be surrendered to the elections personnel to be marked Surrendered or Damaged in big black letters with a permanent marker. The vote-by-mail ballots are sent to the address of the registered voter. Vote-by-mail ballots are forwarded. When a person registers to vote, they sign an oath that they are a legal citizen. The voter signs the registration card or their driver’s license signature is used if they registered online. These signatures are kept on file forever.

When a vote-by-mail ballot is issued, it has a bar code that is unique to that envelope and the person the ballot was issued to. The ballot is unidentifiable as belonging to any individual. When the ballot is completed, the voter signs and dates the envelope. When these are received in the Elections Department, the bar code is visually matched to the voter’s name and the signature is matched to the signature on record. Any discrepancies are investigated further first by the local elections officials and then by the local District Attorney’s Office for possible fraud.

After the signature is verified, a machine slices open the envelope. The ballots are then separated from the envelopes by individuals under the constant supervision of Election Department personnel. There is nothing on the tables: no phones, no pencils, and no pens. Nothing.

Each group is given a packet of envelopes. Each person is given a stack from this packet. The ballots are removed one at a time from the envelopes. The envelopes are set in a pile to one side and the ballots to the other. The envelopes are removed from the room.

The ballots are not touched until all the envelopes have been removed. The ballots are checked to make sure they are clean and that all marks are clear in their intent. The ballots are straightened so they lie flat to be fed into a machine for the votes to be tabulated. Any ballots that are unclear or damaged are separated to be further examined and counted by hand.

Another thing that is good to know is that while it is possible to find out information from the election department website, it is not possible to input or change anything in the election department or its website.

Your name, address, and party affiliation are public information. Your ballot is not identifiable as belonging to any particular voter. How you vote is kept secret from everyone.

When you go to a Voter Assistance Center to vote in person, for whatever reason, and you vote on a machine that then prints out your voted ballot, that machine is only plugged into the outlet in the wall. It is not connected to the internet in any way.

This is the basic procedure behind running an election by mail. There is a verifiable paper trail that can be reexamined multiple times. The ballots and the envelopes are kept in secure storage for two years after the election has been certified.

Julia Adkins


Editor's note: This item has been modified to restore the initial paragraph, which was cut because of a production error.

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