Voter confidence and the ballot count: a behind the scenes look

As Bay Area elections officials process and count ballots, new initiatives including cameras, technology and data aim to strengthen voter confidence.

For the first time, several counties are providing live video feeds to observe ballot scanning, signature verification, counting and adjudication.

Contra Costa County posted a video of its ballot drawing Wednesday to explain how elections workers test the ballot counting machines.

With a roll of the dice, ballot numbers were chosen at random to be pulled and counted by hand. Those votes will be compared with those tallied by centralized scanners on election night to insure accuracy.

At a nearby warehouse, county workers are using a large machine to filter and take pictures of vote-by-mail envelopes collected Tuesday.

Then, the electronic signatures on the envelopes are compared by staff with those signatures on file with the clerk-recorder’s office for verification.

"Then they get put through [the machine] a second time," Deputy Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said. "And that’s when it separates the ballots that are good from the ballots that are challenged."

Ballots can be rejected for a missing signature, damage or other errors.

But that doesn’t mean the ballots get thrown out.

"The ballots that are challenged we send a letter to those voters to give them a second chance to get that ballot counted," Gong said.

That same process plays out in San Francisco where livestream cameras can give anyone a look inside, where the sorting and scanning is happening.

Another camera is located inside a command center where election workers interact with voters to answer questions and fix any issues.

Transparency also comes in the form of data release including a "vote-by-mail challenges report" based on San Francisco data.

The report says of those ballots reviewed so far, 150 have a signature that didn’t match the one on file. 74 mail-in ballots had no signature. And six envelopes were missing a ballot.

Still, it doesn’t mean some of those voters won’t get the chance to cast their votes. Just like ballots with errors, there’s an adjudication process.

Observers in Alameda County can see that process online as workers take a closer look at what machines or voters may have missed.

It’s a new effort to pull back the curtain and see the election process in real time, according to Registrar of Voters Tom Dupuis.

"This is just another way for us to insure and show that everybody’s vote is being counted," he said.

Statewide, the next release of unofficial results is scheduled for Thursday. The last day for county elections officials to certify election results is December 8.

"Democracy is sacred to us," Contra Costa County Assistant Registrar Helen Nolan said. "All of us are very passionate, very committed and very dedicated to what we do. And our dedication is to the voter."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU