Santa Clara County unveils how it will make in-person voting safe, secure
Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey demonstrates how ballot drop boxes will work. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    Voting booths will be socially distanced, there will be one-way routes to enter and exit and you don’t need to bring a pen or pencil — the equipment will be digital. Don’t forget your mask.

    Those are among the things Santa Clara County residents can expect if they plan to cast their ballots at a voting center.

    To reassure voters that in-person voting will be safe and legitimate, Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey used a mock voting booth Oct. 13 to demonstrate what people should expect to see.

    The Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the Voter’s Choice Act model in 2019, which allowed for every eligible voter to receive a mail-in ballot that can be dropped off at any voting center in the county.

    More than 100 voting centers will be open for voting and ballot drop-offs from Oct. 31 to Election Day, Nov. 3.

    “You used to have a paper roster where a voter would sign in. Now we have the poll pad that we can look up a voter, we can check their registration, and we can tell if they have already voted or not,” Bushey said.

    The county is providing bubble ballots this election, which will then be run through a scanner that will drop ballots into a secure bin that instantly identifies errors, such as filling in too many choices.

    New high-speed ballot machines were brought in to shorten the time people spend in the voting centers. The machines, Bushey said, will also cut the time counting ballots.

    “Before we worked until 2 in the afternoon the next day just to finish election results from election night. This last election we finished at 1 in the morning, just five hours after the polls closed,” she said.

    Votes from each center will be tabulated onto a single digital cartridge and uploaded to the Registrar of Voters system.

    More than 1 million voters registered with the Santa Clara County for the first time — a record brought on by automatic voter registration at the DMV, among other things, according to Evelyn Mendez, public and legislative affairs manager of the Registrar of Voters.

    “There’s been a lot of advertising. Social media is making a huge difference by every one of their platforms reminding someone about voting,” Mendez said. “At the top of every Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it.”

    Many residents have cycled through the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office to register and even vote early.

    “We have almost 40,000 people who have voted already,” Mendez said.

    In regards to unapproved ballot drop-off boxes that have popped up in Southern California, Bushey said,  “Please take a look at these boxes and the logo right on the front. We want everyone to see what our ballot drop-off boxes look like.”

    Ballot drop-off boxes will have the county logo along with “Official Ballot Drop Box” in bold red letters and ballot information on the side.

    To ensure election security, Bushey said at least two people have to be present when transporting ballots through a chain of custody from the ballot box to a more secure bin after polls close.

    “We now have ballot tabulation inside each vote center. After Election Day, that night they will bring (the ballots) back in teams of two (and) cartridge them. We’ll be able to upload that,” she said.

    Bushey said she doesn’t know whether to expect an influx of in-person voters or low turnout at the centers.

    “But we’re being prepared for a lot of in-person voting,” she said. “We’re receiving a lot of ballots back early at this time. Like every other county in the state, this is the first time we’re doing this.”

    To read profiles of Santa Clara County’s local, regional and state candidates, check out our election page.

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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