Voting 2020 Q&A: Experts answer questions on election, mail-in voting and more

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Confused about mailing in your ballot this 2020 Election Day? How do you know if your vote was counted? Where do you drop your ballot off?

ABC7's Liz Kreutz along with a panel of experts sat down to answer your questions on the election and voting Wednesday night.

The panelist included:


With regards to mail-in ballots in the upcoming election, when are they processed and approved by the county? And when are they actually counted? If my ballot has been accepted by Contra Costa County does that mean my votes will be counted on election morning, and be included in the first returns that precincts report when the polls close?



Tim Dupuis: I'll speak to how we handle it in Alameda County, so we're receiving those vote by mail votes, right now, and we're going through and we're validating the voters by the signature on the ballot. And we're getting those ballots ready to be processed around 10 days before the election we start scanning those ballots that we've received into the system we don't count them we can't, tally the system, the balance but we can queue them up, and any of those early votes that we can get queued up, and which usually are almost all the way up to election day. Those will be the ballots at 8 p.m. that we tally and get the first early votes out to the public. So, those early votes will be included in the very first early unofficial tallies that we post out to the public.

Shannon Bushey: We do the same process as Tim had mentioned, you know there is a number, about couple weeks before where you do start scanning those into the voting system as he said it doesn't do the tally that will release to us all at eight o'clock on election night. So we have the same process that Tim spoke up about and begin processing ahead of time as we're, you know also waiting from the Secretary of State for official writing lists, you know, for candidates and we need to incorporate those counts also which comes around the same time, the 10 days for the election.

If you vote does it matter how you vote? If you go put it at your city hall dropbox, if you put it in the post office, is there one way you would recommend over another to make sure your ballot gets in early?



Tim Dupuis: All of the ways that they can deliver their ballot to us are pretty well outlined on our voter information guide and online. They can get it to us through the mail through one of our drop boxes at our office, we have a drive-thru drop stop throughout the county that people could drive in and drop off their ballots. I'd encourage people to get their votes in early if they want to get them tallied right away. I think what's going to be interesting is now that we're seeing that the people are bringing their votes in early in record numbers, as we sit -- as Shannon, I just said what our numbers are -- if we see more people if the majority of people get their votes in early. We're going to be capturing most of those votes on election night. If we start to see them being dropped off on election night or in the mail on election day. Then those that those votes are going to come in after election day, and we'll be continuing to tally those.

Shannon Bushey: It depends on when voters are mailing and we are, you know, current and past elections on processing all the ballots, we receive up through the weekend before election day and then we have typically received, you know, 150,000 ballots on one day on election day and then you know between the mail, and the drop-off, so those do take time to then process. After all of the registrars have 30 days after an election to canvass all of our results. We have our election night results that we all work on until everything's come in from polling places or the vote centers, but then we all have all the vote by mail and provisional ballots and other processes in audit and all our systems and cross-checking to do within 30 days after the election so that 30-day deadline is the same deadline that has been in place before. So our voters and we all the counties have been doing great.

As ballot boxes are left open and ballots are not secure, who's watching the ballots? Where are they being stored?



Carol Moon Goldberg: There are a lot of guidelines about ballot box handling, where they are. If they're free-standing outside a building, they need to be bolted down they need to be made of a certain material. There are lots and lots of rules about that as to who's watching or how quickly they are emptied. I will leave that to our two registrar's but there are a lot of regulations about these, and they are designed to make sure they're safe and they're not just available for tampering.

Shannon Bushey: I mean, we have 100 boxes in Santa Clara County, and as Carol said there are laws and regulations and markings and ADA accessibility and, and even the size of the slot that is just made you know for the ballot very small. They are secure. They may be bolted down in our county chained down. So we do not have any outlets that are left out that are unsecured that are open, and our staff, the Registrar of Voters is the one in teams of two because we have a chain of custody always must have a minimum of two people at all time with ballads to do pickups, have all of our drop boxes so they can rest assured that they are secure, and they are in our possession when we empty out the boxes and bring them back to our secure blocked facility here.

How can people make sure that they are dropping their ballot off in an official ballot dropbox?



Tim Dupuis: Well, to start with, they can go to our website and see where we've officially installed all of the dropbox is starting with that so we also have called out in our voter information guide. But then, the way that we've branded the boxes are all under the same regulations that Shannon outlined, and we fall under that, that same chain of custody, this chain of custody rules, but the branding we have around it has our official seal for the Registrar of Voters for Alameda County, it has our language branding and all the things that were required by California law to put on these boxes to make sure that it has all the information our voters need.

Are we prepared for voter suppression efforts?



Julia Marks: I can't predict exactly what will happen on election day and a lot of folks, including the excellent registrar's, are planning I think for some lines, but the important thing is to really get out the message to voters about the range of options they have and to emphasize the availability of early voting opportunities. You know, a lot of counties, for the first time will be offering multiple places over the weekend before election day where voters can go to vote. And we really want to make sure to get the word out so voters know about that, and can use that option and kind of spread out the flow of in-person voting over multiple days. And then the other piece of that is continuing to uplift the availability of vote by mail and to emphasize the security of vote by mail, and the range of options people have for turning in their ballot. You know, people don't have to mail it back if they have worries about the mail system, they don't even have to use dropbox, they could walk to their voting location and hand it over and not have to worry about waiting in a long line to fill out their ballot inside. So California is really fortunate to have strong laws that provide a lot of flexibility to voters, so it's kind of on us as the communities organizations and the voting advocates and other folks to just get the word out as much as we can so people take advantage of those options and we don't have to see wrong lines on election day.

Tim Dupuis: I certainly don't want to see nine-hour lines, and as our other speakers have said in California, our voters are all getting their ballot in the mail. And hopefully, they're getting the information that they have a lot of really good options to get those votes and like Shannon said we have 80% of our voters that are permanent vote by mail voters in the county. And if I take a look at March. We have many voters who are vote by mail voters decide to drop them off at the polls on election day are waiting to the last minute wanting to get all the information they could before they cast their vote. We'll be prepared for any lines that we might get. But, you know, my hope is that people exercise the ability to use one of these other options to vote and if they do come out to our vote locations.

What should we know or be aware of before mailing in our ballots?



Carol Moon Goldberg: Educate yourself about what's on the ballot and that way you'll feel more prepared to fill out your ballot. Follow the directions if you're returning the vote by mail ballot, you know, fill it out further than that on below seal it sign it, date it, put your address on it and then take it to a dropbox or the post office or to a voting location, make sure you do all those things. Before you get in line.

What are some of the common ways that you're seeing in your county ballots get rejected?



Tim Dupuis: I think one of the most common ways that it gets rejected is people forget to sign the envelope when they return it to us or we see the wrong signature on an envelope because maybe there are two voters in a household and they accidentally sign the wrong envelope. When they sent it into us so there's a, there's a couple and all of us registrar's when we see those types of mistakes we reach out to the voters and, they have a period of time to remedy that when we see an envelope come back to us without a signature. We're reaching out to that voter to let them know that we want that, that vote to count and we want them to come in and get that signature on the envelope.

Does mail-in voting lead to voter fraud?



Carol Moon Goldberg: No, there have been studies, over time, particularly in states like Oregon which has done nothing but vote by mail elections since the year 2000, the incidence of fraud is really really really minuscule, and there's just no reason to believe that it will be any different this time around, plus here in California, and a March election, which seems like a really long time ago but it was just March 2020 72% of the ballots cast your vote by mail ballots. Some of that was by postage some of that was by dropping off and drop boxes or vote centers. I mean no problems were in California I think somebody said this, we are very fortunate that we have a system that is well thought out.

What are you doing to protect voters that do want to vote in person?



Tim Dupuis: I want to start with the options that people are going to have out are in-person voting sites or accessible voting locations. If they have their ballot and it's already in an envelope we're going to have a drive-thru so that they can stay in their car and just hand us their ballot and receive their I voted sticker. We're also going to be offering curbside voting so if they come up to one of these locations, they can give us their information we can get their ballot printed out for them and run it out to their car so they can stay in the safety of their car and vote so what we're trying to do at these locations is, is make the choice to come into the facility, one of the last choices so if they do choose to come into the facility to vote on one of the touchscreen devices that we have or to vote in one of the booths will have a limited number of people who can come indoors, to vote. And we'll have all of the PPE in place we'll be wiping down all the equipment will be if they don't have face-covering we're going to offer that to them, we'll have that available for our voters we're also going to have gloves available for our voters will be wiping down stylists, and all the protections that you would expect will be in place. We'll be sterilizing the place regularly. And for those people, if we have too many people who want to come in, we'll have a queuing system outside where they can safely stage outside distance, or even waiting in their car for the time to come in.

Carol Moon Goldberg: Our curbside voting is more reserved for ADA accessibility, or those that may have covid symptoms we ask them to stay outside. So otherwise, we're doing along the same lines with the PPE and the social distancing and, you know, one-way routes throughout the vote center with the equipment spaced out and the sanitizing and yes if they don't, a voter doesn't have a mask. We will offer them masks and gloves with ever they would like and review ask our voters you know to please, please wear a mask when you come in, and we will provide one if you don't.

Do different colors mean different things on return envelopes for voting?



Tim Dupuis: Yes. So, in our county. We have two different types of elections that we're running, depending on the local election that we have. We have three cities in our county that are ranked-choice voting cities, it's a different way of voting you choose by rank. The choices of candidates and it allows for us to select the candidate based upon choice, but we have three, three cities that have those, those types of elections going and we've given them a different color envelope for returning so we can isolate those votes as we go through the processing.

If you see something suspicious at your polling location, what should you do?



Julia Marks: The first thing I would do is let the staff know at the voting location, they're trained coworkers who don't know how to respond and whether the issue needs to be escalated to the county elections office. And then secondly I would call the national Voter Protection hotlines. They are operating call centers all over the country and they are helping troubleshoot voters' problems answer their basic questions. And then if needed, they can help with escalating issues on to elections offices, and then they're also collecting information so that after the election we have an idea of what kind of problems people were facing out in the field.

How can you track your ballot after it gets mailed?



Carol Moon Goldberg: There's a statewide website you can go to called where's my ballot. And you can put in your name, your birthdate I believe your zip code and you indicate whether you want a text, or an email, or even a phone call, and you will be notified of certain stages in the voting process. One is that your vote by mail ballot has been mailed to you. One is that it has been received by the elections office, and the third one is that it's actually been counted. And so that's a really easy way to get that information.

Other good messages, reminders about the election, and voting:

Carol Moon Goldberg: treat election day like it's tax day. It's the day you have to have your paperwork in, but you don't expect your refund that night or the next day. You know you wait a couple of weeks. So that's what this election is going to be like you don't expect results, really, final results that night or the next day it will take several weeks, and if you adjust your expectations, then won't be so anxious.

Shannon Bushey: I guess one of my basic messages is been to get prepared. Make your plan to vote and get out and vote, you know you can go online and register, you can go online and confirm your registration if you need to do any updates. Get everything in order.

Carol Moon Goldberg: This is a representative government, and we as voters have a voice in our government and this is our time to express that voice so don't be intimidated by all the things you've heard you're in good hands here in California, you have the to find people here. And in all the counties across the state. So, so don't skip something. Don't skip out on this election because you're concerned that it won't matter because it does matter every single time. It matters, in the end, we count votes, we don't count money, we count votes and that determines who was elected that determines if ballot measures pass or don't pass. So, do not be intimidated. Make your voice heard. And do it in one of the three or four ways that you now have.

Get the latest stories and videos about the 2020 election here.

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