Manually recounting November’s votes

Thousands of tally marks and repeated calls of candidates’ names have been the order of the day around these parts. And that would be because the one percent manual recount, required in the 28 days following Nov. 6’s Consolidated Municipal, School and Special District Election, got started Monday and continued through today.

Working in teams of four to manually call out and tally votes

Teams of four were busy following strict procedures for manually recounting all the votes cast in 18 of San Mateo County’s 400 precincts that were randomly selected early Tuesday. See how 10-sided dice helped us determine the precincts.

Calling out and tallying votes for Vince Williams, one by oneVotes were recounted whether they were cast on Vote by Mail ballots, eSlates, provisional ballots, paper ballots or at universal voting centers before Election Day. Election folk worked at tables in teams of four to count votes, and it all sounded something like this:

Person A: “Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince.”

Persons C and D: “10”

Person A: “Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince, Vince.”

Persons C and D: “20”

Riveted? Perplexed? Bored? Wondering who Vince is?

Person A was calling out votes cast for Vince Williams, a candidate for member of the board of directors of the Point Montara Fire Protection District. Ballots are carefully separated by the candidate voted for, and then the votes are read one by one.

The manual tally sheet 

Sitting across the table are Persons B and C, who are tallying the votes as they hear them called out, using paper tally sheets and indelible pencils. When they make ten tally marks, they call out “10.” When they make 20, they call out “20.” If both tally people are hearing and marking correctly, they’ll be calling their numbers out at the same time.

You may notice that Person B is missing. That’s because they don’t say anything; Person B’s job is to sit next to Person A, and act as a witness to ensure they’re calling out votes as they appear on the ballots. That handy two-man rule ensures nobody is cheating or getting it wrong.

While counting votes made on paper ballots might seem like a no-brainer, perhaps you’re wondering how votes made on the eSlates – which are electronic – are counted manually.

 Breaking the seals on the eSlate printers to remove the paper record of votes

Easy. Each eSlate voting machine has a small printer attached to it which makes a paper recording of the votes cast. Remember having a chance to review your choices on paper before pushing the “Cast Ballot” button? The seals on those printers are broken and the paper inside them, much like the paper roll in a cash register, removed. With the simple snip of scissors, instant miniature ballots! Names are then called out for those votes just as they are for paper ballots.

And let us not forget that we recount votes not just for candidates, but for measures too. It’s the same process, but instead of calling out a candidate’s name, the person reading the votes calls out “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” or “no, no, no…”

Reviewing paper ballots for the manual recount

In compliance with election law, every jurisdiction in the county that had a race – there were 27 – had at least some of its votes recounted. The law also allows for this to be a public process, and we found a small number of observers checking it out.

The vote tallying teams know nothing of the number of votes recorded in the semi-official election results tallied electronically and reported on Election Night and in the days immediately following. It will be up to elections officials to reconcile the numbers manually and electronically counted, and, if there are discrepancies, to investigate them.

It’s not until any disrepancies are resolved that election results can become certified and official.


3 responses to “Manually recounting November’s votes

  1. Which 18 precincts were selected?

  2. Sure, we’d be happy to answer that question. We thought that might be too much detail for most, but apparently not for all. For those interested, the specific precincts chosen for manual recount were:

    1003: City of Burlingame, Measure A
    1511: San Mateo Union High School District, Millbrae School District, City of Millbrae
    1613: San Bruno Park School District, City of San Bruno, Measure F
    2117: City of Belmont
    2201: City of Foster City
    2622: San Mateo Union High School District, San Mateo-Foster City School District, City of San Mateo
    3304: Montara Water and Sanitary District, Point Montara Fire Protection District
    3310: Midcoast Community Council
    3322: Coastside County Water District, Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District
    3420: Portola Valley School District, Los Trancos County Water District
    3616: San Carlos School District, City of San Carlos
    3742: Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, City of Redwood City, Measure D, Measure E
    3810: Town of Woodside
    4410: Menlo Park Fire Protection District, Measure G
    5003: City of Brisbane
    5102: Broadmoor Police Protection District, Measure H
    5615: Jefferson Elementary School District
    5829: City of South San Francisco, Measure B, Measure C

    If you’re curious to know which precinct you reside in, go to Smart Voter and type your address and zip code into the “Find my Ballot” section of their homepage.

  3. Thanks! This blog contains great info and is well written too!

    There’s hardly no such thing as “too much detail” when it comes to election reporting in my book. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for more of the data (e.g. election results) to come in spreadsheet form.

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