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The journey of a vote: How your ballot gets counted

"I Voted" stickers from the 2013 Special Mayoral Election are shown.
Nicholas McVicker
"I Voted" stickers from the 2013 Special Mayoral Election are shown.

A ballot's journey to getting counted includes several steps before it becomes an official vote. The steps are part of a process that begins in advance of the election and continues until all the votes are counted.

The Registrar of Voters, states that securing the election is of the utmost importance and follows this process to help them identify and prevent fraud.

This process includes individualized barcodes on the envelopes mailed to voters, signature verification and steps for further review if there are any issues with a ballot.

  1. First, the Registrar assigns a barcode to each voter. The barcode and the voter’s name are placed on the envelope for voters to receive their mail-in-ballot and also on the envelope they mail to the Registrar. When the ballot gets back to the Registrar, the barcode is cross referenced with the Registrar’s own records.
  2. The signature of each voter is also checked for authenticity. Registrar staff cross-check the signature on the envelope to the one they have on file. Once approved, the ballots are removed from the envelopes. In this step, the part of the envelope with a voter’s personal information is kept hidden from view to protect the anonymity of each person’s vote.
  3. It’s also worth noting that ballots unreadable by a scanner because of any damage, are sent to Registrar staff for further review. The ballots are recreated and then counted. The original ballot is also kept.

    Ballots where a voter’s intentions are not clear are also reviewed by Registrar staff who work to determine what was meant by the voter. For example, according to the Registrar, this would include: “If a voter has voted for too many or for too few candidates in a contest.” 

  4. Following these steps, the ballots are counted. They are submitted in groups to scanners that read voters' choices. As the Registrar counts the ballots, they send groups of results to a server with no connections to external networks, including the Internet.
  5. The Registrar then moves the results onto a separate USB drive before making them public on their website. As an additional step to maintain the security of all the votes, every time batches of results are uploaded to the USB drive, they are erased right after making room for the next set of results.
  6. Finally, ballots that were counted and shared with the public are moved to storage. They can only be looked at again through a court order or in cases where a recount is needed.

After these steps are completed, a voter’s ballot is officially counted and becomes an official vote on record.

You can find more information on the Registrar of Voters website.