[OVC-discuss] Observing process in Placer County CA 4th CD -- Brown v. McClintock

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Mon Nov 10 2008 - 16:09:03 CST

I spent this morning observing the vote canvass process in my county. The
congressional race is still too close to call. Placer has not started
counting absentees and provisionals, which amounts to about 60 percent of
these types of ballots for the district. Maybe 25,000 of the 40,000 to be
counted. The vote count shows McClintock leading by 800 votes or so.

I observed several processes going on in different rooms 1) the vote-no-vote
process that updates voter history for voters voting provisional ballots, 2)
checking signatures on mail-in ballots, and 3) ballot duplication for
mail-in ballots that have some anomaly. They won't start counting votes
until these process are done.

Before I go into any details, a couple of quick impressions.

1) Vote at the pollsite on Election Day and encourage others to do the same.
I think Placer County's procedures are pretty good, but there are many
things that can go wrong. It eats up a huge amount in terms of human
resources and lawyering.

2) If we are going to have absentee voting, the ballot should be machine
printed like the OVC pollsite system (we need to develop a system to
transmit a form electronically for the remote voter to make selections and
print the ballot). Optical scan systems are not too bad when employed at
the pollsite since they can catch anomalies like overvotes and stray marks.
But you run a significant portion of hand-marked ballots though the postal
system, you're going to end up with a bunch of screwed up ballots. This is
not a big problem for contests won by a large margin, but when you get under
1/2 of one percent (like our congressional race), you have a problem.

They check every signature on the absentee ballot envelopes. If it can't be
matched to the signature on file, the envelope will never be opened. This
is sometimes a tricky judgement call, especially when they are checking
signatures on registration forms that are sometimes 10 years old or even

I asked a lot of questions about all these processes. A supervisor gave me
a 32 page document on ballot duplication. I asked if this was available on
the web, and she said, "no," it was there own procedural guidelines. I
scanned the document and have attached it here. Some of the real-world
examples, do not fit neatly in these guidelines.

They remake the ballot when there is some problem with it. One person reads
each contest on the ballot to be remade (now marked VOID), while another
transcribes the choices onto a new ballot marked DUPLICATE. A county
employee watches along with several observers. Once in a while, they make a
mistake and have to re-do again.

A lot of the things I saw today are not specifically covered under state
law -- a lot of judgement calls based on the way they do it in Placer
County. Other counties do things differently. Placer has some deal with
the post office to expedite late arriving ballots. As I understand it, the
post office will make a special Election Day run to the county officies with
any ballots they have anywhere in their system whereas they would not arrive
on time with normal delivery. That's nice, but how many counties do that?
If your ballot arrives after the polls close on Election Day, it doesn't
count (postmark doesn't matter).

Alan D.

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Received on Sun Nov 30 23:17:13 2008

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