Extraction Day for vote-by-mail ballots a people powered experience

Extraction Day for vote-by-mail ballots a people powered experience

Extraction Day for vote-by-mail ballots a people powered experience
Volunteers handle some of more than 100,000 Vote By Mail ballots in a warehouse near the Contra Costa County Election office in Martinez on Feb. 29 for the Extraction Day event that precedes Election Day.

Extraction Day.

It doesn’t get the fanfare that the California Presidential Primary Election on March 3 is getting, but it’s a no less important step in the voting process.

Before a single ballot can be counted after the polls close on Super Tuesday, they must be opened, smoothed and tallied.

To ready the ballots for counting, 150 volunteers and 30 Contra Costa County Election office staff gathered Feb. 29 in a nearby warehouse to remove the contents of 112,000 vote-by-mail ballots that arrived to election central in Martinez from drop off locations, including city halls and libraries, throughout the county.

‘No one can hack this’

Extraction Day for vote-by-mail ballots a people powered experience
A member of the Contra Costa County Elections Division staff examines an improperly marked ballot as part of the adjudication process to determine how a voter’s intention so it can be properly included in the voter tabulations.

“This is a very manual process” said Scott Konopasek, the county’s assistant registrar, scanning proceedings in the warehouse, “no one can hack this.”

No personal items or cell phones were permitted at each station, nor could volunteers have food or drink (except water), which could contaminate the ballots.

Konopasek said the number of ballots received for this election, about 25 percent of the vote by mail ballots originally sent, is actually down from the 40 to 50 percent that normally are extracted.

“People are waiting to see what happens in South Carolina,” he said as a possible reason for why ballots are being held during this election cycle.

Early voting in California

California’s primary being early for first time since 2008 is another factor. When it has been held in June, Konopasek said voters didn’t hold onto their ballots to the last minute.

On a white board of various locations where the boxes were receiving the VBM ballots and the respective numbers, 232 ballots were tallied for Concord City Hall, and 77 came into Clayton City Hall.

The expected tidal wave of 300,000 vote by mail ballots will come Tuesday from those dropped off at polling sites. And then there are those postmarked by Election day and trickle in Wednesday. All will be ultimately counted, he said.

While the count starts Tuesday night, Konopasek said it won’t be until Friday following the election that the first trends will be available in the various contests. And, official results won’t come until a week after the election is held.

“It makes you appreciate what goes into an election,” said Martinez resident Barbara Chambers, who has been helping with this step for 12 years. Citing the oath that preceded the actual work, “People take this seriously.”

After the ballots are removed from the envelopes, the number of envelopes, ballot cards, and good ballot cards are tallied for a Ballot Accountability Sheet at each station, and the ballots themselves are sorted and boxed. The boxes shipped across the street to an upstairs secured room in the main election building where staff were scanning – NOT counting – the thousands of ballots.

Staffers also were doing the adjudication process to examine those scanned ballots that may have been flagged in the scanning process as being marked improperly by a voter. This steps also gets those ballots are ready to be counted on Tuesday evening.

A Long Day

A long day was in store for the volunteers and staff the weekend before the election, but first-time volunteer Bryan Girard of Walnut Creek said it was all worth it.

He explained it wasn’t that he lost faith after the last election but helping out is reassuring to him about the accuracy, thoroughness, and completeness of the process.

“This is truly street level,” said Girard of the hands-on effort. “I like that it is powered by people.”

“The process is amazingly true!” he added.