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Election 2020: How election officials are ensuring votes aren't counted twice

Sacramento County already has a system in place to ensure the accuracy of each and every vote they receive in the mail.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Voting is the fundamental right of every American citizen, but the 2020 election is raising questions about how exactly the system is working to ensure your vote is not only counted, but also not counted twice if you try to vote by mail and then in-person.

We’ve adapted and changed to a lot so far in 2020, but how is our voting system adapting to the coronavirus pandemic?

Because of the pandemic, all registered voters in California will receive a ballot in the mail. But in Sacramento, this isn’t all that new.

“Once we implemented the Voter’s Choice Act of 2018, we started automatically mailing a ballot to every active registered voter in the county,” said Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Courtney Bailey-Kanelos. “So our voters are a little more familiar with this right now.”

RELATED: Here are all the important voting dates you need to know

Because of the Voter’s Choice Act, Sacramento County already had a system in place to ensure the accuracy of each and every vote they receive in the mail.

According to the Sacramento County Elections Office, there are 10 different layers of security every ballot goes through for it to be reviewed and processed. Here’s how they laid it out:

  • Ballots are printed and inserted into ballot packets by print vendor that have met strict requirements for certification by the Secretary of State to produce ballots for the State of California. Ballots are printed using strict requirements, such as proper paper weight and registration of the ballot image on paper. The image contains a specific tint and watermark designated by the Secretary of State for the current election. Printed ballots are inserted into a generic ballot packed and the voter’s name and unique barcode is imprinted onto the outside of the envelope. This complex process requires computer generated databases and insertion machinery because every voter must be sent a ballot that corresponds to their correct precinct and ballot type.
  • In Sacramento County, ballots are automatically mailed to all “active” voters through the United States Postal Service (USPS) beginning 29 days before Election Day. Addresses of registered voters are updated regularly using information from the National Change of Address database and the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure ballots are being mailed to current addresses. In addition, election mail is never forwarded. Any ballot packets mailed to voters no longer living at an address are returned to the county and placed in and flagged as “inactive” so election mail will not be sent to that voter until they have confirmed their address.
  • Voted ballots are postage-paid and returned through USPS, Ballot Drop Boxes, in-person at a Vote Center, or may be given to a trusted person to mail or drop off for a voter. Voted ballots are scanned in at USPS and delivered in bulk to Sacramento County Elections on a daily basis.

In particular the sixth step is where election officials ensure voter ballots cannot be counted twice by voting in person and mail or by voting in multiple places in California.

“If that signature matches, we will count the ballot. If it doesn’t, we will actually reach out to the voter to see if we can get it corrected,” said Bailey-Kanelos. “If a voter forgets to sign their return envelope, we’ll also reach out to the voter. If we do notice something is wrong or missing with the voter’s vote-by-mail ballot we will actually reach out to them to get it corrected.”

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If voters want to witness the process for themselves, the Sacramento County Elections Office says you’re welcome to come in.

“We are making extraordinary efforts in order to create a safe voting experience for those who do want to vote in-person and we’re also working to combat a lot of the misinformation and myths out there over mail ballots or the vote-by-mail process,” said Bailey-Kanelos. “We welcome voters to come in, watch our process. We are a public office. Our job is to serve the public. We are there to answer your questions, concerns and our process is completely open and transparent.”


WATCH ALSO: 2020 Election: Important dates to remember

The term “vote early” has been sung repeatedly this election season, but when exactly is that here in California? Because of the coronavirus, every registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail. So when should you expect to get that ballot? Return that ballot? And can you still vote in-person? If so, when? We compiled a list of all the important voting dates you need to know, starting in the beginning of October.