Orange County’s voting system was put to the test this week — and all seems to be working well as the county’s election workers gear up for the counting of more than 1.8 million ballots on Tuesday, March 5, now less than a month away.
With the primaries officially underway, election workers put the first batch of test ballots through Orange County’s voting system on Thursday, Feb. 8. Inside the spacious and drafty warehouse at the Orange County Registrar of Voters headquarters in Santa Ana, around 10 workers, each with multiple stacks of test ballots, fed them one by one through the ballot scanning devices.
By the end of the day on Friday, the 40 machines that had been tested this week were deemed to be working properly, according to the Registrar’s Office.
“We’ve never had any discrepancies in the vote count,” said Registrar of Voters Bob Page.
Thursday officially kicked off the testing of all ballot scanning devices that will be used in the primary election. It is called, according to the Secretary of State, the “logic and accuracy test,” mandated by the state to “ensure that every device used to tabulate ballots accurately records each vote.”
Accuracy testing of Orange County’s voting system started with the preparation of test ballots and will continue until all devices have been included in the test, said Page. The Registrar’s Office wants to ensure every device accurately counts ballots before they are put into use, he said.
If a device, during testing, is found to be counting ballots inaccurately, it won’t be put to use, Page said.
As in years past, voters have several ways to vote, Page said. Ballots can be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, dropped off at a ballot box or delivered in person at a vote center. Voters can also vote in person at any vote center.
The 406 test ballots used in the “logic and accuracy test” this week cover every scenario in which a voter could submit a ballot, whether it’s a pre-printed ballot that is mailed out to voters or ballots created by marking devices at a vote center, Page said.
Test ballots were marked to replicate how voters could vote, and election workers fed them through the ballot scanning devices, called Hart InterCivic Verity Voting. When the ballot is inserted, the screen shows the message: “Please wait, the device is processing your ballot.”
Once the ballot has been processed, the device chimes, and the screen shows a blue background with an American flag.
At the end of the logic and accuracy test, about 400 machines will have gone through testing, said Page. There will be two ballot scanning devices at each of the 183 vote centers in the county — 37 of which will open on Feb. 24, followed by another 146 on March 2 — and at least 20 extra just in case.
Hart machines, used by 12 other California counties, allow voters to either fill out their ballot by hand or digitally and then scan and cast their ballot using a touch-screen operated ballot scanning device.
The test, along with other election activity, is open to the public to observe. Being transparent about election activity to the public allows people to see for themselves that the elections system works accurately, Page said.
“This has always been part of the process,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that conduct transparent elections.”
A lack of confidence in the election system and whether votes will be counted correctly is a concern many Republican voters hold, according to a December poll by The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll found that about three in 10 Republicans nationwide have a “moderate” amount of confidence and three in 10 have “only a little” or “none at all.” On the other hand, 72% of surveyed Democrats said they are confident their votes will be counted correctly.
Starting in this election, Page said, voters could return their vote-by-mail ballot at a vote center and have it “processed and counted like a nonprovisional ballot cast in person,” according to legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year.
Page said the greeter at a vote center will ask every voter who comes in to deliver a vote-by-mail ballot whether they would like to simply drop off the ballot or vote it as an in-person ballot. If the voter chooses the latter, their status will be changed from a vote-by-mail voter to an in-person voter, and they will be required to sign the roster for the voting location. After, they will be given a secrecy folder and directed to a ballot scanning device, Page said.
To ensure voters know where their ballot is, the Registrar has a tool that allows voters to track their ballot. Voters can sign up at ocvote.gov/track to receive notifications about the different steps in the process, Page said. Those who are signed up now will receive a notification when their ballot has been mailed. A notification will also be sent when ballots are returned to the Registrar, and when ballots are accepted for counting, the system will notify voters who have issues with their ballot, for example, forgetting to sign the envelope.
Source: Orange County Register