Counting Vote by Mail Ballots
Process Overview

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The San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division has decades of experience with Vote by Mail, with the majority of our voters preferring this voting method over in-person voting. Vote by Mail is safe, secure, and convenient, and can be tracked to and from our office via BallotTrax.

Although most San Mateo County voters vote by mail, many do not know what happens after they return their voted ballot to us…until now! Here are 10 steps we take to process, inspect, secure, and count your Vote by Mail ballot.

vote by mail process

  1. Pickup Mail
    Ballots are picked up daily from the San Mateo Main Post Office and from San Francisco Main Distribution Center.

  2. Clean Mail
    Remove any mailpieces that aren’t ballot envelopes and arrange the ballot envelopes with their barcodes facing one direction.

  3. First Vantage Ballot Sorter Pass
    Ballot envelopes go through the Vantage Ballot Sorter where a picture is taken of the voter’s signature. Any damaged ballot envelopes are sorted out and given to a voter outreach team. The Ballot Sorter machine can process 50,000 ballots an hour.

  4. Verify Signatures
    A team compares the signature on the envelope with the one on file. Missing or mismatched (aka challenged) signatures require outreach.

  5. Second Vantage Ballot Sorter Pass
    Ballot envelopes go through the Vantage Ballot Sorter where challenged signatures are sorted out.

  6. Extract Ballots (Ballots are removed from their envelopes)
    Voted Ballots with good signatures are “extracted” via Extraction Desks from the return envelopes. We have three Extraction Desks that each can process 2,000 ballots an hour.

  7. Quality Control
    Extracted ballots are reviewed to ensure that ballots are ready for scanning. Each ballot has a barcode called a “timing mark”. If a voter tears or spills coffee on these timing marks, the scanning machine may not be able to identify the ballot. Damaged ballots are set aside for duplication onto a clean, undamaged ballot.

  8. Scan Ballot
    Ballots are scanned at scanning stations. We have 5 scanning stations that each can process more than 1,000 ballots an hour. We have two high speed (HiPro) scanners that can process more than 2,000 ballots an hour.

  9. Adjudicate Ballots
    Undervotes, overvotes, write-ins and stray marks are reviewed by trained staff to ensure your vote is accurately counted.

  10. Post Election Audit
    Ballots are randomly selected to be manually tallied to ensure that the computer tally is accurate. Upon verification, the election results are certified.