The San Diego County Registrar of Voters is “well-prepared” for the upcoming November 3 General Election and has been readying for all mail-in ballots for years. It just happens that the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to happen earlier than anticipated. Registrar Michael Vu sat down for a one-on-one interview with The Times-Advocate Wednesday.
So says Registrar Michael Vu, the man in charge of county elections.
Q: What do you say to those who fear that the Registrar of Voters will be overwhelmed this year by so many mail in ballots?
A: What I would say is that this is something we are well prepared for. We have been investing in time, money, process and infrastructure; not just this year but over multiple years for a situation where every voter would receive a ballot in the mail. We didn’t realize it would happen this year but we are well postured. We touched base with our stakeholders and mail printing vendors, who would package them through the U.S. Postal Service. We have received assurances that they can do it. Nearly 75% of the county’s registered voters are already signed up to permanently receive their ballot by mail. We don’t see any major issues with managing the inbound and outbound processes to include the remaining 23.6%.”
Q: What’s the timeframe?
A: Sample ballots will go out forty days in advance, which will be September 24. Mail ballots will be sent out October 5.” Note: Vu said many voters will have already started to receive materials that will inform them of this process.
Q: How do we guarantee dead people don’t vote this year?
A: A variety of ways. Making sure we keep up-to-date on people who have passed through various government agencies through the Bureau of Vital Records and county clerks. We receive a list through the Secretary of State every week. We are always running and getting information to cull voters lists.
We are sensitive to the question that we have the most up-to-date lists. Not only those who are deceased but duplicate records. Or if they are separate people to make sure that they remain distinct. One thing we have done, besides sending a mailer, is to check that information against national changes of address maintained by Postal Service. To make sure if they don’t reside in the county or no longer live in the state for us to be able to address those specific situations. This is ultimately how we maintain our main list, which we are required to do by federal and state law. It’s not necessarily perfect because there is a lag time on information, but we will certainly stay up-to-date to send that to our mailing house before it’s mailed out.
Q: How reliable is the list?
A: No list is 100 percent because it is dynamic. People are registering all the time, and moving, turning 18 and dying. The list is in constant change. On the other side, voters should inform us when things change. We sent out a mailer asking people to inform us if there was a change.
On that mailer we printed the residents’ physical address and mailing address specifying how this election will be different because of the pandemic and have voters tell us if their mailing address has changed.
Q: Will it take weeks to process our ballots this time, like it did two years ago?
A: It always does. The fact is that to ensure election integrity and accuracy, and processing of mail ballots, it takes time. I anticipate a higher number of people voting by mail ballots and it will be determined by voters how many we receive in advance of election day. It does take time to validate signatures on envelopes. We verify every single ballot before we move to the next step. Election officials are granted 30 days to process every ballot. I intend to take every one of those days. It may take time to understand who has won the election in a tight contest, when some electoral units are so small. Nothing is final, regardless of whether it’s a presidential election, until it’s been certified.
Q: Do you increase staff this time of year to meet the challenges of a major election?
A: Yes, normally in an election we go from staff of 68 to nearly 1,200 seasonal, not including poll workers. We’re still going to need many individuals in this new format of holding the election. Hundreds of them. That won’t change.
Q: What will change?
A: In a normal year we have volunteer polling workers we pay a stipend to reimburse them. In the upcoming election we will pay them an hourly wage for certainty, because the pandemic has created uncertainty. We want to compensate them and get commitments, probably to commit to—at most— nine days instead of one day. It’s four days for superpoll sites and two days’ worth of training, one day to set up set, one day to take it down and one day to receive voting equipment.”
Q: Given that the pandemic especially targets seniors, do you expect the age of your workers to change?
A: There is a recognition that thirty percent of our poll workers are 65 plus. There is a recognition that they may not want to participate because of the pandemic. We’re really are not being considerate of age. If someone wants to participate, that’s fine, regardless of age, if they meet the requirement. But it creates a level of uncertainty. We may not be able to get enough poll workers and they may sit this one out. That’s why we are consolidating heavily our polling places. Normally we would have 9,000 volunteer poll workers. Now we will get by with 3,600 because we won’t have over 1,500 precincts. Instead we will have 235 polling sites.
Q: What kind of workers will you be looking for?
A: Workers we are looking for are highly qualified, have a higher level of skill set, management skills, or those who know technology. They will have electronic poll books, i.e. iPads. That’s normally a big heavy book of voters eligible to vote. Now it will be an electronic iPad with a list of voters.
Although we need fewer poll workers we need them for a longer time. There will be fewer polling places, but we will need them for a longer duration. Poll workers need specific skill sets to serve the many voters. You will vote the mail ballot, unless you need to go to one of these in-person sites. These will be open October 31-November 3 at 8 p.m.
Q: How do you protect the chain of custody of ballots from ballot harvesting?
A: We’ve launched the Vote Safer San Diego campaign. (www.sdvote.com/content/rov/en/vote-safer-san-diego.html) It revolves around the pandemic. Part of that is that after voting, make sure the ballot is clearly marked; put it in the return envelope, seal it, sign it and return it to a trusted source: U.S. postal service, or to our office, but also 124 mail drop off locations, which we will open October 6, or to any one of 235 superpoll sites that will be open.
Q: So what are the changes to this election over previous ones?
A: Two significant changes: One is that every voter will receive a mail ballot and there will be fewer polling places. In March we had nearly 1,350 physical sites. In the upcoming election we will have 235 assigned sites they can go to. But they are much larger in size because of social distancing and they will be open for four days. This is in response to the pandemic and legislature and governor’s action.
Q: So you don’t encourage people to vote at a polling place?
A: If they want to or need to they can vote physically, but we don’t encourage that. If they made a mistaken on their mail ballot and need a replacement, they are a conditional registered voters. So they need to register and vote the same day, or they want to. They have traditionally voted in a polling place. A fifth scenario, someone with disabilities needing to vote in place. We hope people will use superpoll locations for that.
Q: What are the drop-off points for Escondido and Valley Center voters?
A: Can’t say certainly. The list will be published next week. But all county libraries are being used, even if they aren’t open. They will be open for election services and will be staffed. They will be open to receive ballots. Nothing is finalized.
Q: Could we say that Escondido and Valley Center’s libraries are tentatively on the list?
Q: So to be clear, every voter will get a mail ballot?
A: Every voter will receive a mail ballot. We are highly encouraging them to return the paid postage and they will have the list of closest mail balloting places where they can drop it off. Sign it and seal it and return it to a trusted source. If there is any concern the voter can track it by getting push notifications similar to Fed Ex. You can subscribe to ‘Where’s my ballot’ on our website. You can track your ballot as it’s getting to you.
Questions? Go to Sdvote.com