How Votes are Counted and Reported in Monterey County
The Official Canvass of the Vote
What does it mean to “canvass” the vote? Simply, canvassing the vote means counting and reporting election results. There are many steps that make up the “canvass” process. Vote by mail ballots canvassed before Election Day make up the first report released to the public on Election Night. Ballots voted on Election Day at polling places are canvassed on Election Night and added to the vote by mail ballot results. Ballots canvassed after Election Day and released in the 28-day canvass period make up the final results for candidate contests and ballot measure outcomes.
Reporting Results on Election Night (semifinal official canvass)
State law allows us to start counting vote by mail ballots seven business days prior to the election. Before vote by mail ballots can be opened and counted, the signature and address the voter gave on the return envelope must be matched to the voter’s registration record. In Monterey County, we have a large number of voters who vote by mail so we begin to verify the return envelopes about three weeks before the election. In a large countywide election, the Department will begin to open and extract ballots from envelopes on each of the two Saturdays before the election and machine count the ballots on each of the two Mondays before the election. The results cannot be announced until after 8 p.m. on Election Day when all polling places have closed.
The semifinal official canvass means the steps to county ballots and report results and starts after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day. If at the close of polls there are any other eligible voters in the polling place or in line at the door, the polls must stay open for enough time to allow them to vote. The steps to close the polling place can begin once all voters have left.
Closing procedures allow the poll workers to verify all materials at their location before any voted ballots can be brought back to the Department to be counted. This can take four workers 15 - 40 minutes depending on turn out and the size of the election. In small elections, we use the least number of poll workers required, three, to save costs.
Polling places are as far north as Watsonville, to the coast in Big Sur, to as far south as Lockwood. Thus, travel time to the Department can be an hour or more.
When the materials arrive at our warehouse, they all must be checked and logged in before the official ballot box seal may be broken and the ballots counted through one of the three paper ballot counting machines. The vote results of the polling place ballots are reported with the results from the vote by mail ballots. The County has a total of 183 voting precincts, with 122 Election Day polling places that must return voted ballots to the Department for counting and reporting. Processing paper ballots takes longer than processing electronic votes from a touch screen voting machine, requires more staff, and has extended election night reporting in Monterey since we stared using paper ballots again in 2007. Extra reporting time can be one hour in small elections and up to 12 hours in a large high turnout election.
The semifinal official canvass cannot stop until all precincts have been received and reported. When this is done, we can report the “Semifinal Official Election Night Report.”
Reporting Results After Election Day (final official 28-day canvass)
The results released on election night are not final. As mentioned earlier, the mail ballot results released on Election Night are from the voted ballots the Department has counted up to the Monday before Election Day. But, there are many more ballots still left to count after Election Day.
Vote by mail ballots may be returned up to 8 p.m. on Election Night to any polling place in the County. Ballots received on the Saturday and Monday before the election and received on Election Day are not included in the Election Night results because the Department simply cannot verify and count all of them in time. There can be anywhere from a few thousand ballots left in a small election to tens of thousands left in a large election. In November 2008, we had nearly 40,000 left to count!
Provisional ballots are held and researched after Election Day to make sure the voter has not voted another ballot before the provisional ballot is counted. This is all done in the days or weeks after Election Day, and is a part of the official canvass.
The official canvass also includes extra steps to check the accuracy of the final results. In this stage, we:
Check all materials returned by poll workers.
Confirm the signatures on the roster match the number of ballots cast, spoiled, canceled, over-voted and invalidated.
Count (by hand) all valid write-in votes, one by one.
Manually count and verify election results
Reproduce and count damaged ballots.
Create a final report to be sent to the official governing bodies.
An important step of the official canvass is the manual tally (count). We count all ballots cast in no less than one percent (1%) of randomly chosen precincts. This step is called the "one percent manual tally." Its purpose is to confirm the accuracy of the machine count. We also tally one extra precinct for each contest not included in the one percent manual tally. In cases where the winner has won by a small margin, we choose extra precincts for the manual tally.
Once the official canvass is done, we produce and certify a “Statement of the Vote.” This is the final official result that shows all votes cast in each precinct.
We are located at 1370 B South Main Street in Salinas. Election results are posted on our website under the link, “Latest Election Results.” Our schedule for releasing results to the public can be found under “Election Results Reporting Schedule.” The Department also releases a schedule of activities open to the public. Anyone is welcome to observe every part of this very important canvass process.