After you voted, what happened to your ballot?

Poll worker at Menlo Park Fire Station 1 folding up the flag and closing down the pollsWe still can’t answer our previous question of whether Tuesday’s turnout in San Mateo County will be a record one, because there are still so many ballot left to count (more on that later).

But the question we can answer right away is what happened after the polls closed at 8 p.m., and what, exactly, happened to your voted ballot that you left behind.

As the clock struck 8 last night, we found ourselves at Fire Station 1 in Menlo Park, where poll workers immediately got busy closing the polls. It’s a long process – taking at least an hour – that involves several steps to ensure voting equipment is secured and all ballots are reconciled and accounted for.

Highlights include spoiling all unused paper ballots, counting each and every voted and unvoted paper ballot, and matching the number of voters signed in to the roster with the number of ballots cast. As is understandable for any human being who’s been at work since 6 a.m., it usually takes a couple of tries and a couple of sets of counting minds to match all the numbers up.

The eSlate voting machines must be shut down using the Judge’s Booth Controller – the machine that controls the eSlates and actually stores votes – and reports of votes cast are run, signed, and hung outside the polling place.

And all those eSlates have to be disassembled too. These poll workers even got some help from the firefighters at the station (each eSlate weighs 30 pounds).

eSlates are disassembled by poll workers after the polls close at Fire Station 1 in Menlo Park

Once everything has been accounted for and secured, blue ballot boxes, the JBCs with their stored electronic votes, and red suitcases filled with polling place supplies, are driven by two poll workers to one of 14 receiving stations throughout the county. Receiving station folks work by floodlight, as demonstrated below, and they stay until the last precinct has arrived.

Red supply suitcases, blue paper ballot boxes and JBCs being collected at a receiving station in Menlo Park

This one was in the parking lot outside the government complex on Laurel Street in Menlo Park. Notice the gentleman with the cell phone; he is transmitting the receipt of each of those items to Precinct Tracker, our Web-based system which tracks precinct supplies and voting equipment on Election Night. (And notice the woman with her hood on; it was cold out there!)

When items accumulate, two receiving station staffers bring the ballot and JBC boxes back to the Elections Office. (Red suitcases, which only contain supplies, are taken back separately in trucks by Delancey Street Movers. They will also make the rounds to polling places today to pick up secured eSlate machines disassembled by poll workers.)

And that’s where we pick up with what we blogged about in depth for the Nov. 6 Consolidated Municipal, School and Special District Election – what happens to those ballots once they arrive at the Elections Office. The process is entirely the same, but we’ll add some new photos to prove that it did, in fact, occur again.

The gist of it involves scanning the ballot and JBC boxes, and sending the JBC boxes down a conveyor to be inspected, unsealed and opened. The memory cards inside them, which contain the electronic votes, are removed. (Paper ballot boxes are sent to a separate room where they are opened and the ballots readied to be sent through optical scanners.)

Taking JBCs out of their boxes at the Elections Office on Election Night

Once memory cards – technically called Mobile Ballot Boxes, or MBBs – are removed, they are scanned, assembled in a orderly fashion and brought over to our secure tally room, where the cards are read and votes are tallied.

Memory cards storing electronic votes are assembled and readied to be read for vote tallying

We filed our last results report at 1:30 a.m. There will be another one at 5 p.m. today Friday, and at 5 p.m. for days following on Feb. 13 and 19 until every vote is counted.

It will take several days to finish counting. Read our previous blog post about it; again, the process is the same. We must count all the Vote by Mail ballots that arrived at the Elections Office on Election Day or were dropped off at the polls, and reconcile all the provisional ballots that were cast (and there were many of them).

You’ll see our turnout numbers from our latest report are at about 40 percent, which is nowhere near a record (though it does already far exceed the 24 percent turnout in November). These preliminary results are also showing a Vote by Mail turnout of at least 38 percent, which might explain why our polls weren’t as crowded.

We can’t say that we experienced what neighboring counties Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa did, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, with hordes of voters showing up and polling places nearly – or fully – out of ballots. But expect turnout numbers to go up with each report we issue; we’ll know if this is a record for our county soon enough.

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