For the last week it’s been all hands on deck at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters (ROV), as about 150 ROV employees performed recounts in 10 county election races. The recounts are part of an automatic recount pilot program put in place this year by the Board of Supervisors, triggered when candidates are within 0.5 percent or 25 votes of one another. Only local races that are entirely within the county are subject to automatic recounts.
Santa Clara is the only county in California that does automatic recounts, according to ROV Public and Legislative Affairs Manager Philip Chantri, who says this was a record election for Santa Clara County. This election saw the most registered voters and ballots cast, and the longest ballot in county history. Over 60 percent of Santa Clara County voters now vote by mail.
“We think we will have one of the highest turnouts in the state,” said Chantri. “About 83 percent of registered voters voted. And we’re recounting almost half for 10 races.”
Recounts capture ballots that can’t be interpreted by optical scanners, but are often clear to human intelligence. For example, ballots that are incorrectly marked – choices circled or ‘x’ed, lines aren’t completely filled in, one choice is crossed out and a second one is marked – damaged ballots, write-in votes or ballots with stray marks that confuse the scanner.
It’s a painstaking operation.
Ballots are recounted precinct by precinct, by teams of four people who sort and count the number of ballots cast, cull out over-voted (too many votes) and under-voted (too few votes) ballots, and finally count the number of ballots for each candidate.
ROV supervisors and volunteer recount observers watch the operation to verify that votes are correctly counted. If there’s a question about how to interpret a ballot, a supervisor gets involved.
The team’s “announcer” reads candidate names aloud while a second team member verifies that it’s read correctly. Two “talliers” maintain independent counts, which are compared after each batch of 25 ballots. If the numbers don’t agree, the batch is recounted.
In Santa Clara, 42,224 voters cast ballots and slightly more than 35,000 cast ballots for the office of Police Chief; where incumbent Michael Sellers held a slim lead of about 100 votes – about 0.03 percent – against challenger Patrick Nikolai. Last Wednesday, ROV workers manually recounted every single one of those 42,224 ballots, starting at 7:30 a.m. and working into the late afternoon.
The recount left Mike Sellers the winner, with a total of 17,648 votes to Pat Nikolai’s 17,531. The certified statement of the vote will be published Dec. 8.
Poll workers and volunteers are always needed for elections, starting before the election and continuing until the final statement of the vote, says the ROV. Volunteer observers can watch tests of vote counting equipment, mail-in ballot processing, election night ballot receipts and counting, the official “canvas” to certify the vote, random audits and recounts. For more information, visit www.sccgov.org/sites/rov.