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Napa Elections Chief: Every Vote is Counted

A commentary from Napa County registrar of voters John Tuteur explains why it will be after Thanksgiving before we know the final vote count from election night.

Making Sure Every Vote Counts During the Canvass

The process of certifying election results, also known as the canvass, is mandated by state law to make sure that the public can have confidence in the integrity of the final results. 

Napa County does not update results between the unofficial Election Night results released at 11:29 p.m. November 6, 2012 and the release of the final certified results during the week of November 26, 2012.   

We do not interrupt the careful steps that we take during the canvass to release interim unofficial results. 

Interim unofficial results have no bearing on the final outcome of races including one race where only 15 votes separate three candidates for a second city council seat and another race where only three votes separate two candidates for a school board seat.  

Only final certified results will impact those races.

The public is invited to observe the process we are following to verify and tabulate the approximately 28,000 ballots we still have to count in these three categories.

1)      Approximately 25,000 vote by mail ballots returned after Friday November 2 at 5 p.m.  Each of these ballots has to have the signature verified, the envelope opened, the ballot reviewed by human eyes to make sure it is ready to count, counted and then the results included in the manual tally of 6 precincts chosen at random prior to the election.  In addition the Registrar of Voters personally inspects any return envelopes on which a signature has been challenged as not matching the signature on file from the original registration affidavit.

2)      Provisional ballots which require individual review to see if the ballot can be counted. We have 1,281 of these ballots, many more than in previous elections. These ballots cannot be processed until we have entered the voting history from the polling place rosters of the 5,866 ballots cast at the polls and until we have verified all of the signatures on the 25,000 outstanding vote by mail ballots to make sure each ballot can be counted.  A provisional ballot is often cast by someone who thought they lost their ballot. What sometimes happens is they forgot they mailed their ballot shortly after receiving it 29 days before the election. We cannot let such a provisional ballot count.

3)      Approximately 2,000 ballots that need to be duplicated. These ballots are discovered 1) when the vote by mail ballots are opened and reviewed prior to counting; 2) when the polling place ballots are reviewed prior to counting or 3) when the optical scan machine cannot count a ballot. Whatever the reason, teams of two people will duplicate the intent of the voter onto a clearly marked duplicate ballot that can be counted. We wait until all regular ballots are counted before we begin duplicating ballots because additional ballots needing duplication will be found during the second count.

We will finish verifying signatures on the approximately 25,000 vote by mail ballots on Wednesday November 14. 

Our citizen vote by mail boards arrive on Thursday November 15 and Friday November 16 to open and review the ballots.  

We will count the second run of ballots beginning on Monday November 19 and finish by Wednesday November 21. We should finish duplicating ballots on November 20 and 21. Those duplicated ballots will be counted in the third count on Wednesday November 21.

We cannot begin the manual tally of approximately 1,800 ballots until all vote by mail, provisional and duplicated ballots have been counted.  

We plan to begin the manual tally on Monday November 26 (Thursday November 22 and Friday November 23 are holidays.) 

Manual tally involves teams of three people removing the machine counted ballots from their sealed boxes and one person reading the ballot and two people tallying the results.  

We hope to complete the manual tally by Wednesday November 28. Once the manual tally is complete and I am comfortable that the manual review matches the machine count, I will certify the results and release those results to the public.

Except in races where there is a margin of less than 50 votes in the 11:29 p.m. election night results, there is little chance of the trend changing. 

Think of an opinion poll as an analogy. In a national poll perhaps 1,500 likely voters are asked how they are planning to vote. The poll results are used to project how more than 100 million voters will decide on election day.

Using the 2nd Supervisor race as an example, there are 15,506 registered voters in that district. We have an “opinion poll” from 6,453 voters whose ballots have been counted.

Assuming an 80% turnout in that district we still have approximately 6,000 ballots still to count which means that more than 50% of the “poll” has been completed. 

The margin in that race on election night was 255 votes between the two candidates. The odds of that trend reversing in the next 6,000 ballots is statistically insignificant because there are no distinguishing characteristics between the ballots already tallied and the ballots now being processed.

Please contact Registrar of Voters John Tuteur at 707-253-4459 or john.tuteur@countyofnapa.org if there are any questions or comments. 

Click this link for the unofficial election night results for all the Napa city and county races and ballot measures.

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