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Ballot Security and Safety

The Santa Cruz County Clerk and her team is committed to ensuring that voters can exercise their right to vote in a safe, secure, and accessible manner during the 2020 Presidential General Election.

Due to COVID-19, California elections officials will mail a ballot to all voters in early October per Governor Newsom's Executive Order and state legislation. 

Mail-in ballots give voters the option to vote from the safety of their homes.

72% of the county’s 166,690 registered voters are already signed up to permanently receive their ballot by mail, so the Santa Cruz County Elections Department is well positioned to manage this increase.

Ballots will be mailed to voters by October 5. If you do not receive yours by October 13, call the Elections Department at 831-454-2060.

You can sign up today to track your ballot, just like you track a package. Go to www.WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov and fill out the online form. After signing up you will receive an email, text, or voice call notifications when your ballot is mailed in early October and when it is received by the elections office after you vote it and return it. You will also get alerted if there is any problem with your ballot so you can correct it.

 

What to do when you receive your ballot

When you receive your ballot, the packet will include information on how to mark your choices and how to return it so it will be counted.

Vote it: Fill in the oval to the left of your choices. Voting is not a test. You do not have to vote on every contest.

Put it in your envelope: After you vote your ballot, make sure you insert it in the envelope with your name and address on it. Households with more than one person often switch envelopes and this can delay our ability to qualify and count your vote.

Sign it: Sign the ballot in your own handwriting. Do not let someone else sign it for you. We will compare your signature to the signature we have on file for you. Our data files will include signatures from your voter registration card and signatures from past mail ballots. If you registered to vote online or through the DMV, your signature on file will include the signature on your driver’s license.

If your signature does not compare or if you forget to sign your envelope, we will contact you and give you an opportunity to cure your signature. Signature cures must be completed by November 29.

Print your information: There is a place on the envelope where you will print your name, address, and provide a way for us to contact you if there is any question or problem with your ballot.

Seal it: When you seal the envelope, the flap will cover your signature and personal information.

Return it: You can return it to any of the 15 ballot drop boxes we will  have installed throughout the county, or return it to any of the 4 city clerks, or to any in-person voting location that will be open from Saturday, October 31 to Tuesday, November 3. A list of locations will be included in your ballot packet and posted online.

Ballot safety

Postmark + 17 (new law)
Ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day or are time stamped or date stamped by a bona fide private mail delivery company on or before Election Day and received by the county elections official by the 17th day after the election shall be considered received on time.

The signature on the ballot envelope is compared to the signature on file by humans
The tab covering your signature will be pealed off by staff when your ballot arrives. It will then be sent through a ballot processing unit that will capture the signature. An elections clerk will then look at every signature on every ballot and compare it to the signature on file.

If you forgot to sign your envelope, we will mail you a Signature Statement so you can provide your signature.

If your signature does not compare, a second elections official will inspect your signature. If they do not believe it compares, the County Clerk or the Assistant County Clerk will determine if your ballot should be challenged due to a signature that does not compare.

If your ballot is challenged, you will be contacted using the information on the ballot envelope. If you cannot be reached by telephone or email, we will mail you a letter with a Signature Statement so you can cure your signature.

The Signature Statement may be returned to the county elections official by mail, FAX, email, hand-delivered, or dropped off at a voting location or drop box if we have contacted you before Election Day. The Signature Statement must be received by the elections official by November 29.

No electioneering
No one can solicit the vote of a vote-by-mail voter, or do any electioneering, while in the residence or in the immediate presence of the voter, and during the time he or she knows the vote-by-mail voter is voting.

Any person who knowingly violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Don’t let a stranger return your ballot
There have been concerns raised about ballot collection from third parties. California changed the ballot return law in 2016 to allow any person to return a ballot for a voter. The person returning the ballot must print their name, sign their name, and provide their relationship to the voter on the outside of the envelope. The law used to require the third party to be a relative, household member or the caretaker of the voter.

If a voter cannot return their ballot without assistance, they are encouraged to enlist the help of someone they know and trust. If they do not have anyone available, they can call our office at 831-454-2060 and we will send an elections official to pick up the ballot.

In my experience, I have not seen any abuse of this expanded law in Santa Cruz County.

What about voter fraud?

In a Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025%.

The Heritage Foundation maintains a database of all recent instances of recorded voter fraud and found just 204 reported cases involving the fraudulent use of vote-by-mail ballots over the past 20 years — only 143 resulted in convictions. That means that over the last two decades, about 0.00006% of total vote-by-mail votes cast were fraudulent.

In Santa Cruz County, since 1993 there has been 1 case of voter fraud where a property owner voted and returned a ballot for a tenant. We caught the incident during our standard signature checking procedures.

Most cases are people guilty of “over-helping.” Spouses signing for the other. Parents signing for their children.

Bottom line. It is your ballot. Sign it in your own handwriting!

If you see something, say something! If you suspect voter fraud, please contact the Secretary of State. They have a complaint form posted online at https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/publications-and-resources/voter-complaint/. You may also call the Secretary of State at: English: (916) 657-2166 or (800) 345-VOTE (8683). Spanish: (800) 232-VOTA (8682)

You may also contact the Santa Cruz County Clerk at 831-454-2060 or info@votescount.us. The County Clerk is not authorized to do investigations, so the office will refer the case to the appropriate local agency.