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Backstage Pass 9: Board of Elections

We are coming to the homestretch for the Backstage Pass and it’s just as interesting these last few sessions as the first ones.

This session took a look at the political and legal processes for the county, starting with the Election process. Our guide for the morning was Craig Latimer, the current Supervisor of Election. He really loves what he does and loves sharing it with others. And it shows up in everything he has put together. He is the first Supervisor of Election to win the Governor’s Sterling Award, the highest award for excellence in the state of Florida!

Our election process is more than showing up at a polling place, casting a vote and counting ballots at the end. So much goes into getting the process right. From start to finish—ballots need to be correct, equipment needs to run smoothly, information needs to be collected accurately. There are 300 polling sites in the county and, even though much of the process is electronic, over 3500 people still needs to keep things moving every step of the way through an election.

The First Stop: Sorting, Labeling and Mailing

The first stop in the voting process is Early Voting and Vote by Mail. About 71% of people vote prior to election day. This not only saves time, it also saves money. Voting in person costs the county approximately $9 per vote.

Here's where it all gets started. Each Vote-By-Mail ballot it sorted and stuff through this mailing machine.
Here’s where it all gets started. Each Vote-By-Mail ballot it sorted and stuff through this mailing machine. They run one precinct at a time  since each precinct would have a different ballot. This same machine will also open and sort all returned ballots.
After the envelope is stuffed with the right contents, they are weighed to be sure nothing is missing from the envelope.
The same machine will weigh each envelope after it’s stuffed to be sure nothing is missing.
Once weighed, each enveloped gets the mailing information printed directly on it. This includes a barcode so the envelope can be tracked, either by you or the Board of Elections.
Once weighed, it moves to the label printer to  get the mailing information printed directly on it. This includes a barcode so the envelope can be tracked, either by you or the Board of Elections.

 

Then comes the task of mailing all those ballots. They are sorted by zip-code in this huge machine to bring down the cost of postage.
Then comes the task of mailing all those ballots. They are sorted by zip-code in this huge machine. By sorting by zip-code it brings down the cost of postage.

Second Stop: Polling Site Equipment

This part of the warehouse was so organized! With so much equipment, you might think it would be chaos. But, it’s far from that! The warehouse is organized into sections for each piece of equipment. Each piece of equipment is labeled with the precinct number, list of additional content to be added before going out and basic instructions if needed. For the actual voting system, every year the machine is cleaned, updated with the latest software and the precinct ballot is loaded. Public Logic Accuracy tests are run on randomly selected machines with predetermined test decks to be sure the results from the machines matched the expected results.

Voting machines now include devices for handicapped and deaf. .
Voting machines also include devices to record results for handicapped and deaf.
Each precinct bag has a label telling what to put in each bag.
Each precinct bag has a label telling what to put in each bag.
This goodie bag includes some of the small extras each site will need, including a phone, small flashlight, keys and more.
This goodie bag includes some of the small extras each site will need, including a phone, small flashlight, keys and more.
All the precinct goodie bags ready to go. Each bag is labeled with its district and a short list of content.
All the precinct goodie bags ready to go. Each bag is labeled with its district and a short list of content.
This section of the warehouse is known as the Apple Orchard. It houses over 200 iPad Minis waiting for voting day. They have replaced the big bulking signature books from the old days.
This section of the warehouse is known as the Apple Orchard. It houses over 200 iPad Minis waiting for voting day. They have replaced the big bulking signature books from the old days.

 

Last stop: Counting the Ballots

Hillsborough County has accurately voted for president in 19 of the last 20 elections. That said, the world keeps its eye on our county elections. In the last presidential election the press room was buzzing with reporters from around the world—UK, Australia, South America, BBC and Fox along with our own local reporters were all crammed in waiting to results from the race.

This is the results rooms. Last manual votes are sorted and counted and results are pulled together.
This is the results rooms. Last manual votes are sorted and counted and results are pulled together.
It's important that machines are kept running. Communications from each polling site is fed into the results room. If any machine is not working properly or even not plugged in, it will show on these screens and the polling site will be called.
With the world watching, it’s important that machines are working correctly on election day. All voting machines are monitored through one system. Everything from battery power to ballot inventory, voter turn out and spoiled ballots are all kept an eye on throughout the night. If any machine is not working properly or even not plugged in, it will show on these screens and the polling site will be called or a tech sent to the site.
Ballot sorts like this one will sort a stack of ballots. Ballots where the person accidentally marked two people in the same race. will be returned to get an accurate vote.
Ballot sorters breeze through ballots, sorting them by complete ballots and ballot with multiple selections for one race.

After the race is reported and everything is settled, the ballots are tucked away under lock and key and kept for 22 month. This allows for any necessary recount. Accuracy of votes is the highest priority to Craig Latimer. Over the years, the system has been tested, checked and cross-checked many times and been found to be accurate to the vote.

There has been many questioning the integrity of voting in recent years. But Hillsborough County can be confident that our votes are accurate.  There was a resent race result that was within .25%. This created a mandatory recount. When recounted, the hand count matched the machine count exactly. It’s something we can be proud of. It’s an awesome group of people that makes our voting run smoothly.

If you would like to be part of it all, they need many volunteers to make it all happen. They always need help at the poling sites. You can register to be a pole worker on their website.

I hope you are finding these fascinating as I do. It’s been amazing to see everything our county does!

 

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2 thoughts on “Backstage Pass 9: Board of Elections

  1. Wow! I had no idea how much really is going on behind the scenes.
    I have really enjoyed this series and learned so much! Thank you for sharing with us

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