How your ballot is handled

Do you ever wonder how your ballot magically appears in your mailbox 2-3 times a year? Do you wonder how it gets counted? Most voters are not aware of the intricate processes involved to run the largest vote-by-mail county in the U.S. Here is a high-level, crash course:

1. Assembling the ballot packet

Your ballot packet is assembled about four weeks prior to Election Day.  Ballot packets include a customized ballot (based on your jurisdiction), security and return envelopes, and any informational inserts.

2. Mailing the ballot

If you are a local voter, your ballot is mailed to you three weeks before Election Day. If you are an overseas or a U.S. service voter, your ballot is mailed 45 days before a Primary or General Election and 30 days before Special Elections to allow more time for the ballot to reach you. 

3. Voting your ballot

You have until Election Day to vote and return your ballot. Your ballot must be deposited in a ballot drop box no later than 8 p.m. on election night, or be postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service no later than Election Day.

4. Sorting the incoming ballot

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Ballots are sorted during an election

Your ballot packet is returned to our office where a mail sorting machine scans the bar code for your information and takes a picture of the signature on the envelope. This signature will then be used in the verification process.

5. Checking the signature

State law requires that we compare the signature on the ballot envelope with your signature on file before we can count your ballot. If the signatures match, we can count your ballot. If the signatures do not match or is missing, we contact you by mail, email, and phone letting you know how to take care of the issue. You have until the day before the election is certified to respond.

6. Opening the ballot

First, we remove all the security envelopes from the return envelopes in an entire batch of ballots. Next, we remove all ballots from the security envelopes. Finally, we inspect the ballot to see if the scanning equipment can correctly read the vote. Ballots that will be read correctly are sent to be scanned right away. Ballots with damage or unclear marks are sent to another work group to be prepped for scanning.

7. Reviewing the ballot

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Elections staff duplicate a ballot

If your ballot will not be read properly due to stray marks, corrections, or the wrong color ink, it is reviewed by a team of two people to determine how best to process the ballot. We might physically duplicate your vote onto another ballot or we might do so electronically in our tabulation system. We use the Voter Intent Manual created by the Office of the Secretary of State to ensure we are counting your vote as you intended. Using this guide ensures our voter intent decisions are made consistently from team to team and election to election.

8. Counting votes and sharing results

Once your ballot is ready for counting, a machine scans the ballot and stores the images on a secure and closed system. The tabulation server is secured in a room with security cameras, biometric controlled access, and tamper evident seals. Tabulation occurs at 8 p.m. on election night and results are made public soon after. Scanning and counting continue until all eligible votes are counted and the election is certified.

You can watch sorting, opening and scanning live during an election on our website.