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Election NewsClicks

Behind the Scenes
of Orange County Elections

Post Election Rundown: A 51 hour journey of a single ballot

November 12, 2016 - It's a bit more complicated than that - stop for a minute and understand what it takes to process a single ballot and it will help to shed some light:

1. Ballot dropped off on Election Day must come together with nearly 200,000 others in a massive sorting operation (so that the ballots are organized, all facing the same direction, in mail trays). Try doing that in an hour (it actually took about 30 hours to complete working overtime).

2. Once this is complete the ballots head to our automated sorting equipment. The ballots pass through this machine at high speed and the record of the ballot is recorded and activated and a digital image is captured of the signature. 

3. These files, in groups of 25,000, take about 90 minutes to create (between sorting and file preparation).

4. The files are distributed to human operators, who then examine signatures on the envelope (four at a time) with the original signature of the voter that is on file. This takes about 2 hours to complete.

5. The ballots are then loaded back into the automated sorting device and begin the same journey as before, through the high-speed sorter, but this time they are sorted by precinct and "outsorted" by good or bad (meaning it will be opened or escalated for further review). This process takes about 2 hours to complete.

6. The good ballots head to our automated extracting machines - we can open these ballots are a rate of about 5,000 - 6,000 per hour. So the group of 25,000 will take about 4 hours to fully open.

7. Once they are opened they head to manual processing stations where they are unfolded, flattened and "married" up to the second page. For the group of 25,000 it takes about 4 hours to complete - it's time consuming because they must be prepared with care for scanning.

8. Following the "flattening" process they move to another station where they are rolled (to take out any curl) and final checks are made for any extraneous marks, paper clips, staples, etc. For the group of 25,000 it takes about 2 hours to pass through this station.

9. Finally they are moved into our scanning operations, where they are scanned at a rate of about 6,000 per hour. If a ballot does not read automatically they are then outsorted for manual resolving - where a human being looks at the contest in question and ensures the ballot is marked correctly.

10. Once they are scanned they move to our Tally operations, where the preparation, downloading of the data, and processing of the actual tally takes about 90 minutes.

So that single ballot went on a 51-hour journey. Of course we are processing ballots in multiple layers, so it moves as efficiently as possible, but you get the idea that we don't just "count" the ballot - there's much more to the process.

And after all, if that was your ballot, you would want that level of care taken for sure!