Are you concerned about your vote counting this November?

So are we! The League of Women Voters has been represented on the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (ROV) Advisory Committee for over a year, and has been tracking the efforts of the Registrar’s office to insure that the vote is fair, secure, accurate, and recountable.

On Friday, September 22, 2006 the Advisory Committee went to the County ROV’s warehouse to see the way the physical arrangements are going to be for the upcoming election on November 7th. Dave Macdonald, the interim Registrar of Voters, reviewed the new ballot and equipment. He also walked the group through the absentee-ballot counting procedure. Each election a larger percentage of voters are voting absentee, so the processing of these ballots has become a large issue for the Registrar. At recent elections about half of all ballots were absentee.

The basic configuration of the voting system at the polls will be paper ballots scanned into a machine which will verify and tally them. There will also be one touch-screen machine with paper verification, primarily for use by voters with physical limitations who cannot vote unassisted via paper ballot. Macdonald has strengthened and added many precautions and safety features.

Security is in place for the machines from the time they leave the ROV warehouse. They will be specially wrapped and sealed. If there is any unauthorized tampering with the machines, the seals will read “VOID.” Poll workers will inspect these seals and also seals over internal cards that record the tallied votes. They will run a special program to set the count to zero for all races.

The new scanners, provided by Sequoia Systems, were inspected to see if the sealed units could be unscrewed from the machines and accessed from below without breaking the seals. They could not. The cards are “married” to the specific machine they are in; no card can be removed and utilized in another machine — it will not operate. The machines will only read the card assigned to them at the time they are packed, and they will not be linked. Each card will be separately loaded into the County main tally system.

In addition to this extraordinary level of caution, Macdonald has instituted a system by which all the polling-place equipment can be tracked as to who has custody of it at any given time. When it is being transported — as in at the end of the day when the votes and machines go back to the custody of the County — two people must be present. When the polls close, the poll workers count everything, affix appropriate seals, and return the materials to a “return center.” There they are checked for completeness, re-sealed, and transported to the County Registrar’s Office for final processing.

When you vote absentee (by mail, before the election, or by dropping off your absentee ballot to any polling place in the county on Election Day), your ballot’s envelope’s bar code is “wanded” to read your name and address. Then, your signature is verified against the signature on file with the ROV. Any discrepancies are set aside for resolution, and matches are put in a stack to be read by a high-speed scanner. This processing of the absentee ballots starts before Election Day, but the results are not released until the polls close on Election Day.

Alameda County election equipment will be well protected physically during the upcoming election, improving the already high standards of the County Registrar of Voters office. This physical security protects the equipment and our vote from tampering. A paper record will also back up the electronic record of each vote.

But the ultimate success of the election depends on the people who run it and carry out the protective systems set up by the ROV. There is still work to be done. Poll worker training starts today. The Registrar needs more workers, so if you can give time, please do! You may call (510)272-6971 to sign up. You may also find out more about working the polls by logging on the Poll Workers page at the Registrar of Voter’s web site. There is a stipend for poll workers, which varies by level of responsibility.

If you want to know more about the candidates and the ballot propositions, where you will be voting, or how to register, please check out the League of Women Voters’ Smart Voter voter education web site.