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How ballots are handled

Learn about the steps your ballot goes through during an election to get your vote counted. 

Your ballot travels a long way from the time it’s printed to the time it’s mailed to you and returned to our office. Watch this video or review the steps to learn how your vote is processed.

You can watch us sort ballots, check signatures, open, and scan ballots live during an election.

Learn more about watching us in action

How we process your ballot

  • Assembling ballots

    We assemble your ballot packets about four weeks prior to election day. Ballot packets include a ballot, security and return envelopes, and any informational inserts.
  • Mailing ballots to voters

    We mail your ballot three weeks before election day. If you are an overseas or service voter, we mail your ballot 45 days before a primary or general election and 30 days before special elections.
  • Voting and returning your ballot

    You must return your ballot in its signed envelope to a ballot drop box or vote center by no later than 8 pm on election night, or by mail, postmarked on or before election day.
  • Sorting ballots

    When we get your ballot packet, our mail sorting machine scans the barcode for your information and takes a picture of the signature on the envelope. 
  • Checking signatures

    We are required by state law to compare your signature on the ballot envelope with your signature on file before we count your ballot. If the signatures match, we can count your ballot. If the signature does not match or is missing, we contact you by mail, email, and phone letting you know there is a signature challenge. We let you know how to fix the problem and get your vote counted. You will have until the day before the election is certified to respond. 
  • Opening and inspecting ballots

    Working with a batch of ballots, we first remove all the security envelopes from the return envelopes. This is the point where we separate the identity of the voter from the ballot inside the envelope to ensure your votes remain private. We then remove all ballots from their security envelopes. Finally, we inspect the ballot to make sure they can be properly read by our scanning equipment. We send ballots that need more review to another workgroup to be scanned. 
  • Scanning ballots

    Once your ballot is ready for counting, we scan the ballots and store the images on a secure and closed system. The tabulation server is secured in a room with security cameras, biometric-controlled access, and tamper evident seals.
  • Reviewing ballots

    After scanning the ballots, we review the electronic images for any extra marks, unclear voter intent, or corrections. We review ballots in teams of two people to ensure the votes are counted correctly. We use the Voter Intent Manual, created by the Office of the Secretary of State, to ensure we are counting your votes as you intended. We use this guide to ensure we make voter intent decisions consistently from team to team and election to election. 
  • Counting votes and sharing results

    Tabulation occurs at 8 pm on election night and results are made public soon after. Scanning and counting continue daily until all eligible votes are counted and the election is certified.