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Palm Beach County's Supervisor of Elections Explains Vote-By-Mail Process

Madeline Fox
Palm Beach County's Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link

There's still about six days until Election Day but Palm Beach County has seen historic turnout, both at the polls and vote-by-mail ballots.

As of Wednesday afternoon, out of 1 million eligible voters in the county, nearly 500,000 voters have cast their ballot. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link said that's a "huge" increase from 2016.

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Link said she’s working to allay fears Palm Beach County voters may have about how vote-by-mail is received and counted by her office, as the historic election night draws near.

She spoke with WLRN's Wilkine Brutus about what her office has seen ahead of Election Day and shared details about the vote counting process.

Here's an excerpt of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity:

WLRN: What does it mean in your office for a ballot to be counted?

LINK: A ballot is counted, technically, on election night. So a ballot is going to be counted when the polls close and we can pull the tallies in. What we're doing is processing all these ballots and that means that they are being Relia-Voted, which means we're checking the signatures.

We're checking the voting history. We're opening them, taking them out of the envelopes that they came in, and then processing through the tabulation machine. And we do all that before Election Day.

And so when is it considered counted?

We're actually processing them through and putting them through the tabulation machines now. But what we see is only the number of ballots that we've processed through. So the count that we're seeing are only the actual number of ballots.

What we're not seeing is the tallies and those are contained sort of within the machines and the programing in the machine. And then we run a program, on election night, that pulls all of those counts together and tallies them up and that's technically when the votes are then counted and we release those results.

In the tri-county area, there are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. How does a lack of uniformity across county lines impact voter trust?

I think there's confusion and we're trying to work with our vendor. And I suspect that by the next election, we'll have a better process. So there are two ways that we can do the track your ballot. And we've chosen to do it differently than Broward's chosen. And I think that has created some confusion.

Soon as you received the ballot, it can show it's counted. Ok, that that's one way, and that's what Broward's doing. We show your ballot is received. And the reason is because we don't want to have any chance that somebody is going on to our web site, tracking their ballot, and it shows is counted, and then within a day or two, we're going through the process of having checked the signatures. Right. Because we get them all in. But, you know, we'll get in twenty thousand in a day.

So it's going to take us at least a full day to get through checking all those signatures. So, if it showed as counted, that second that it came in and then I find out you have a signature problem, then it's going to have to be reversed and just show that there's an alert that it's been received with a problem.

Well, if you happen to look at it and saw it counted and then a day later, I sent you a letter saying there's a problem with your ballot, you need to correct it in order for it to be counted, then you're going to be really confused and then you're going to think there's a problem — and there's no problem, that's part of the process.

So we've elected to not do that way. And we're doing the second option, which is you show that it's been received, and we do that. Second, we get it, it shows received. If that received is blue, then it's saying to you, there is no problem. We're going through this. You've gone through this process and there is not an alert. There's nothing that's going to tell you that there's a problem. Your ballot will be counted on Election Day.

But this way, it allows us if you have a problem with your ballot, it can give you a big red alert, tells you, hey, there's a problem with your ballot, instead of saying received in blue, it's going to say received in red. [It] says alert, tells you you need to contact the office.

It also gives you a link to the cure affidavit that you can go on and tells you how to cure your ballot. So we think that process is very important and we don't want there to be any confusion.

Are you seeing any mistake trends from people who've voted by mail so far?

Point one five percent of ballots received so far have a either no signature or a mismatch signature. So we're under a quarter of one percent of those ballots having problems.

So, of course, we want there to be no problems and we want them all to be cured because ideally everyone is going to have the opportunity to be counted, but we're talking less than a quarter of one percent.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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