Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on this Wednesday, 20 January 2021. As we prepare for this historic moment, Das Tor wanted to reflect back on how we reached this point. Torie Klocko, a Thunderbird alum, worked as temporary election staff during the November 2020 presidential election. These are her experiences during and following the election.
The week before my birthday, I joined the ranks of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and Election Department (MCROED) as temporary election staff. Despite some insane hours and weeks, I learned so much while working there, and I wanted to share my experience.
I worked in the Processing Department. Specifically, I was in the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC), moving racks of ballots from the mailroom to the processing room, distributing trays/boxes of ballots to Citizen Boards (usually 200 per tray, sometimes less), collecting completed trays/boxes, checking the Citizen Boards’ work in a quality control capacity, processing ballots (as a member of a board), filing/archiving affidavits (in case of a lawsuit or challenge to the election), stacking boxes of ballots and moving a giant cart stacked with completed/processed ballots from the processing room to the vault (where they are stored until officially tabulated/counted).
SURVEILLANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
There are numerous surveillance cameras everywhere ballots are found, many of which are streaming live for the public online. As you may know, we also had nearly constant observation by representatives of political parties (obviously, most were from the Democrat and Republican parties). These observers had access to every part of the ballot counting process. However, representatives observing the same area at the same time could not be from the same party (to avoid a conflict of interest), but using binoculars was permissible. The job of observers was to keep us accountable. If there were questions or issues, they could get answers or report concerns so we could address any issues in real time.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR (EARLY VOTING) BALLOT?
This is directly from the MCROED’s website, from their Frequently Asked Questions page.
When an early ballot is received through the mail, the unopened affidavit packet (green envelope with ballot sealed inside) is scanned to acknowledge receipt and to capture the signature of the voter on the envelope.
The captured signature is used by trained staff to compare it to the signature on file from the given voter’s original registration form or forms.
If the signature matches, the ballot envelope is marked as a “Good Signature”.
If the packet is deemed to have a missing or non-matching signature, it is then sent for further review to a higher-level staff member who has been trained in signature verification.
In the case of a missing signature, the unopened packet is sent back to the voter along with a letter explaining why it was returned and a postage paid envelope for the voter to send it back signed.
In the case of a non-matching signature, the voter is contacted by mail, email, text and/or phone (if a phone number is listed on the green affidavit envelope or contact information is in the voter’s registration record) to inform the voter that there are discrepancies with the signature.
All “Good Signature” affidavit packets are then sent to Citizen Boards who process these unopened packets to prepare them for tabulation. Citizen Boards are made up of two individual members of different political party affiliation. These Citizen Boards audit and ensure that the secrecy of the voter’s ballot is maintained by separating the ballot from the affidavit envelope.
For some clarification, a Citizen Board is comprised of 2 people of different parties. Like observers, this is to ensure accountability and objectivity. They must agree on ballots by way of a tray slip, which is basically their signed agreement for the contents of their tray. For example, if a ballot is torn or otherwise damaged, the two must agree and sign the tray slip to signify that they both agree it is damaged. This slip reports how many ballots are damaged, how many are ready for tabulation and how many are rejected–many of the rejected ballots are primary election ballots, which are not valid for the general election.
Any time your ballot is handled, it is by two people of differing parties who must agree about whatever it is–that it is ready for tabulation, that it is damaged, that your selections are obvious (if duplicating a damaged ballot), etc.
SO WHAT ABOUT SECURITY?
I really liked this easy-to-read doc that MCROED put together about that too. No need to re-invent the wheel, right?
… AND “SHARPIEGATE”?
In case you don’t know, election poll workers were handing out sharpies for voting, because they dry quicker, so less/no smudging. A person claimed that the ballots of voters who used sharpies were not being counted by the tabulators and marked ‘invalid’. This was accompanied by the claim that this was an overt attempt to invalidate votes for Trump.
This is false. How/why?
The tabulation machines read 2 major areas on a ballot:
- the ‘barcode’ around a ballot, which tells the tabulator which precinct/district the ballot is for and if it is a federal-only ballot (if registered as a federal employees, they only vote for the president)
- the line of bubbles for voting that corresponds with the page (front or back).
That’s it. If you draw all over the ballot without disrupting that barcode or line of bubbles, then your ballot will be read by the machine without a problem. If your pen leaks through the page, it’s OK because the machines are not looking at the offset leakage on the other side.
In addition, an election official went to the particular precinct site in question to investigate and found no issues. That location was given new optical reading equipment to alleviate any further doubt.
As stated in the above PDF, MCROED tests the tabulation machines extensively weeks and days before using them in any official capacity (which, for Maricopa, started on October 20). MCROED tests the machines after the election as well. When tabulating/counting ballots, a machine will spit out ballots it can’t read, letting the operator know if there are any ‘invalid’ ballots with issues. If this happens, the ballot is to be hand counted. Often, the issue is because the voter used red ink, which is effectively invisible to the tabulation machine.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS.
I’ve seen this entire process in action… with my own two eyes.
At MCTEC, we had 2 major mottos:
- EVERY VOTE COUNTS. We go to great lengths to make sure your vote is counted. You used red ink? Yes, it takes a lot of manual labor, time and money, but we duplicate it with blue/black ink to make sure it counts. Forgot your signature? You get 5 business days (that is, a FULL WEEK) to validate your ballot with a signature!
- If it looks bad, it is bad. This one is about accountability. We strive to do right at every step in the process. Even if you have no malintent, if an observer (who is physically present or the public who is watching virtually) perceives what we do as questionable or suspicious, then we need to do better.
Once you vote, the way your ballot is handled is with the utmost integrity, sanctity and respect.
Democracy is not a right; it is a privilege and with it, comes great responsibility.
To read more from Torie Klocko, be sure to check out her website at https://klockodile.com.