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Balloting system tested

As Tuesday’s presidential election approaches the Madera County Elections Department has been working long hours preparing for the big day. On Thursday Madera County Clerk Rebecca Martinez, who serves as the county registrar of voters, invited members of the community to test the county’s ballot-counting method.

“We put this panel together before every election because we need help testing the equipment used on election day,” Martinez said. “This group can verify we have correctly programmed the equipment.”

The committee was comprised of Sheriff Jay Varney, County Counsel Regina Garza, Grand Juror Jan Peirsol, Susan Rowe of the Democratic Central Committee and Tami Jo Nix of The Madera Tribune. Additionally Nancy Phillips, a vendor of ballots, observed the proceedings.

“We want members of the community to see what the process is, how it works and the steps we take to insure the balloting equipment is counting accurately prior to election night,” Martinez said.

Panel members were issued test ballots and instructed to mark them as if they were voting on Election Day. Martinez encouraged the panel to skip contests if they wanted to. This maneuver tests the counters as well.

The ballots were collected and the votes were counted by hand. The ballots were then run through the card counting machine. The machine tallied the votes and generated a print-out of how the panel’s votes were cast.

County-wide there are 27 different cards that comprise Tuesday’s ballot according to Stephanie Sibley, election manager. The voters each will receive a three-card ballot, depending on where they live.

In addition to the presidential race there are state senate, congressional, assembly, local and special district candidates on this ballot. Additionally there are 16 state and a number of local ballot measures to be voted, too.

The vote by mail ballots should be marked with a Number 2 pencil or a blue or black ink pen. These mediums register with the card readers to tally the votes, she said. Ballots marked with other colors of ink or using felt-tip pens are still valid but require hand counting.

“The theory for running the tests before counting any votes on election day is to insure no one has altered the computer programming, to insure the integrity of the counting system. We know the count is accurate, we know the machine is apportioning the votes correctly,” Martinez said.

On election day panel members will meet at 4 p.m. to witness that the counting machines are all set to zero before any of the vote by mail ballots are counted.

The card counting machines, read both sides of the card and are capable of counting 1,000 ballots a minute, Sibley said. In the days leading up to the election, staff members sort the ballots received from the vote by mail constituents. The signatures on the ballot envelopes are compared to the signatures on the original voter registration cards.

In addition to the machines used to count votes, at least one percent of the votes cast in the county are hand counted to verify the machine count is accurate, Martinez said.

After all ballots are run on election day an unofficial count is announced. The vote counts are updated on the website throughout the evening.

The totals announced to the public on election night constitute an unofficial count. The clerk’s office has 28 days following the election to certify the election and send the final totals to the Secretary of State’s Office.

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