Government / Politics

County redesigns ballots to encourage voter participation and security

The San Benito County Registrar of Voters completely redesigned voter materials, hoping to resolve confusion while providing security and encouraging more residents to come to the polls and vote this election season.

Local voters can expect some significant changes to election materials this year when they go to the ballot box in June and November.

County Clerk-Auditor-Recorder Joe Paul Gonzalez told the San Benito County Board of Supervisors at an April 3 meeting that the changes will not only make it easier to vote in the upcoming elections, but possibly encourage residents to do so.

“In this environment of election security question marks, we asked what can we do to increase voter confidence and voter participation,” Gonzalez said at the Tuesday meeting.

According to Gonzalez, about 27 percent of registered county voters are expected to turn out at the polls this year.

“If people are fearful of going to the polls or have anxiety that their vote won’t count, what about if every voter got something in the mail, like a sample ballot that we do all the time, but could be used to actually vote,” Gonzalez said rhetorically. “I challenged my staff with the idea of how to get everybody a ballot in a way that follows the law and will help increase voter participation, and more importantly, voter security.”

Assistant County Clerk-Recorder Angela Curro lead the effort to design new voter materials, which Gonzalez predicted will become the standard for future elections in California.

The recent changes to election procedures are the result of feedback from voters, elected officials, candidates, and an election advisory group, Curro said. She explained that there is now 24-hour surveillance of all voting equipment, and that the transparency of ballot processing is improved. Internal auditing procedures have also been increased to ensure one vote per voter.

“Any attempt to vote more than once will be identified prior to the counting of the ballots,” Curro said. “Voting twice is a crime and we take it very seriously.”

Board Chairman Anthony Botelho asked Curro how she could assure everyone would only vote once. She responded that vote-by-mail voters are automatically flagged as having received a ballot and a notation will be made on the poll rosters. If a vote-by-mail voter decides instead to go to the polls and they don’t bring their ballot, they have to vote provisionally (a ballot used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility). Voting personnel will make sure a ballot has not already been mailed, Curro said.

If, on the other hand, a person votes at the office and then goes to the polls to vote, the staff will only count the vote that was received first, Curro said.

“We compare how many people try to do that and it’s not as high as you might think,” she said. “Normally, it is seniors who forget that they voted.”

After assuring no one voted twice and the voting process has been completed, Curro said every roster is checked to see who voted.

“Then we compare that digitally [to determine] who has returned a vote-by-mail ballot through that courtesy system and then we pull those if anyone attempted to vote twice,” she said. “We are excited about how this is going to make it easier for voters to participate, especially when they are unable to get to the polls on Election Day.”

 

The assistant election official pointed out that, in the past, all voter mailings had an official election logo from the Secretary of State and the Department of Elections to verify that the materials were indeed coming from an election official, compared to a campaign or candidate. The state voter information guide is expected to be mailed out from the Secretary of State to all registered voters. It will be separate from the county mailer. The packet of statewide propositions and candidate statements will go to each household in the next few weeks up until the first week of May, Curro said.

Historically, the county has had two types of voter mailings: one being the sample voter information guide with all the local ballot measures and candidate statements with a sample ballot, while the second mailer goes to over 75 percent of residents who vote by mail. It contains the official ballot and a return envelope.

“There are 52,000 mailings between these two, and that’s a lot in a very short period of time,” Curro said. “What we have done is combine the two mailings into one called the County Voter Information Guide and Voting Kit. This will go out to the 30,000 registered voters across the county. It will encompass the voter information guide sample ballot and an optional voting kit.”

Curro showed an example with a logo, as well as images of the old sample ballot on the front and back of the envelope so there will be no mistaking that the documents originated at the registrar’s office. She said the single mailing will contain two inserts and will be sent to all registered voters in the county.

Curro further explained that in order to make it clearer to the registrar, the 22,000 people who vote by mail will use a green-colored kit, while those who come to the polls will use a purple-colored kit. Both are in English and Spanish, and will have polling places listed. Both kits are expected to contain the same materials, the only difference being the purple kit will have a facsimile sample ballot, as opposed to an actual ballot for vote-by-mail voters.

There are several ways to return ballots this election season. Voters can either take their ballots to the official dropbox located on Fifth Street between the San Benito County Free Library and the elections department office, slip them in any mailbox (no postage required), bring them to the elections office, or take them to any polling station.

Printing and postage costs will be reduced by mailing only 30,000 kits rather than 52,000, Curro said. The reduction in staff time and processing applications is significant and she added that the cost savings will be posted after the election audit.

Early voting for the June primary will also begin on May 7 in the elections office, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Early weekend voting will take place June 2 and 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The actual primary election will be June 5 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“The dropbox opens on May 7,” Curro said. “It’s under 24-hour surveillance, seven days a week. We tell everyone to smile and wave when they drop their ballots in the box.”

 

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]