Ah, this is Warren Slocum’s most favorite time of the year.
Come again? The election is over, and I know who won my city council race. I’m moving on to making my plans for Thanksgiving.
But oh, in his world, the fun has just begun. Welcome to the Official Canvass of the Vote.
“The canvass is the least understood, most important part of the elections process,” Slocum, our chief elections officer, is apt to declare.
Not to be confused with the Official “Canvas” of the Vote, which we’ll leave for our budding artists to figure out. No, this is canvass with two s’s, as in political canvassing.
The canvass is actually a 28-day period following the election in which vote tallies are completed and ballots and votes are reconciled. A manual recount of at least 1 percent of the votes cast in each race verifies that votes cast by voters are correctly reflected in results reports.
“Performing the canvass is the way that elections offices can be certain that all the vote counting systems are accurate and, ultimately, that the votes are accurate,” said Elections Manager David Tom.
There are actually eight requirements of the canvass, all nicely outlined on the Web site of Secretary of State Debra Bowen; we’ll break down the highlights for you.
First, election folk have been hard at work trying to assure every ballot and vote is accounted for which wasn’t tallied on Election Night. That includes Vote by Mail ballots received the day before or the day of the election, provisional ballots, and write-in votes. That’s why you’ve seen updates of semi-official results posted at 5 p.m. nearly every day since the election. Those numbers change daily as we finish counting ballots. In fact, new results were just posted today; expect final semi-official results tomorrow.
Then there is reconciliation, which includes comparing the number of ballots – used, unused or spoiled – as well as signatures on the voter roster, with the number of votes cast. And there’s inspection of every single precinct supply, as evidenced by the sea of red supply suitcases that come back to elections headquarters to be unpacked.
Finally, there is the 1 percent manual recount, which involves using 10-sided dice to randomly select the precincts that will undergo recounting. Tom hopes to get the dice rolling
Friday Monday morning.
If a precinct is selected, every single vote cast in that precinct is manually recounted, whether the votes were cast via paper ballot, Vote by Mail ballots, provisional ballots or eSlates. (It’s worth noting that it wasn’t until this year that the law mandated including Vote by Mail ballots in the recount. San Mateo County was the first to do it in 2006.)
There are 400 precincts in San Mateo County, so it seems it would logically follow that four precincts are then chosen for recounts. But remember, this was a local election, with so many different races in so many different cities and districts. Every race needs to have one percent of its votes manually recounted.
“We’ll do a lot more than four,” Tom said. “How many races did we have in this election? By the time we’re done we’re in the 20’s and 30’s.”
Furthermore, Tom said, San Mateo County is going to get a jump start on additional recount regulations which will require, starting in February, that counties conduct a recount of 10 percent of the precincts in races where the margin of votes between two candidates is a half a percent or less.
The final step then, is to certify election results, turning them from “semi-official” into “official.” One results are certified, results are accepted by various governing bodies – like your local city council, school district governing board and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. All this means the canvass could take a while. The Elections Office is required to get it done in 28 days, which means Dec. 4, but we’re aiming for completion by Nov. 27.