If COVID 19 was not the most discussed topic for the past two years, then certainly vote-by-mail was. Though not new, the practice of vote-by-mail (VBM) gained widespread attention primarily due to the aggressive presidential race of 2020. Reports in the news, internet sources, and around the water cooler had elements of fact and fiction. But most of these sources did not understand the technology and security built into absentee ballot-processing.
Smaller districts, wards, and cities assumed that VBM technology is complex, cost-prohibitive, and designed for large municipalities and states. It is time to step back and objectively consider vote-by-mail solutions for small to medium size voting districts.
Is VBM safe?
Irrespective of the size and cost of vote-by-mail technology, the first question asked by any jurisdiction is usually about safety and security.
Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington state have conducted their elections entirely by mail for years. The process is not new. Technology continues to make ballot processing faster, easier, and more reliable. VBM equipment compares the ballot signatures against the signatures of record for automatic or manual signature verification. The system processes addresses, signatures, and barcodes while storing electronic images of each ballot, complete with the processing date and time. After capturing data and verifying the signatures, the VBM system sorts the ballots to the proper precincts for tallying.
Handling paper ballots with high-speed equipment presents minimal damage risk. The machines are built to transport ballots safely through the machine. Even ballot designs featuring security flaps process flawlessly. Millions of ballots were processed by Tritek equipment during the 2020 general election with no complaints about jams or damage.
What about voter fraud or someone voting twice?
The United States Postal Inspection Service’s jurisdiction covers “crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system, or postal employees.” With roots going back to the late 18th century, the USPIS is the country’s oldest continually operating federal law enforcement agency. The Inspection Service is well-equipped to regulate vote-by-mail. Voting more than once in a federal election is a third-degree felony. Punishment includes up to a $10,000 fine and ten years in prison. You will also go to jail if you impersonate someone else, steal ballots, or forge a signature. The US Postal Inspection Service is very efficient at catching and punishing anyone using the mail to commit fraud. 98% of criminals charged by the USPIS are convicted.
When a voter who has already voted via absentee shows up at a polling station and tries to vote again, electronic poll books will display that information. The voter is not admitted to the polling station or voting booth. If a second vote slips through, the election computer system identifies two votes from the same voter and only counts the first one received.
VBM technology is a significant investment to only use every other year. What are the other uses for a vote-by-mail system?
Ballot sorting machines are used to sort regular mail, not just ballots. The city, county, or ward’s inbound mail that once was manually sorted can be automated. Individuals and departments receive their mail earlier in the day because the automated process is faster. County employees take action on that mail sooner. Sorting technology processes at speeds up to 15,000 pieces per hour. Manual sorting labor is re-deployed to other work. The equipment is not idle between elections.
Isn’t vote-by-mail technology only for state governments or very populous voting districts with big budgets and lots of space?
Smaller districts often handle absentee ballots manually in the belief that vote-by-mail equipment is only for large voting operations, but VBM solutions are configured to fit any size operation. A desktop version is ideal for offices where volume is light, budgets are tight, and space availability is an issue. For growing communities, sort bins and new features can be added at any time. The county need not “re-buy” a new system simply because new voters have moved in. The equipment is designed to customer specifications and customized to meet the requirements of each election district.
Our county has hundreds of precincts. How big will a ballot sorting machine be?
Counties do not need a bin for every precinct. With multi-pass sorting schemes, ballot processing equipment can sort down to the precinct level. VBM technology providers help counties and other voting districts set up sorting schemes.
Tritek ‘Correct Elect’ Vote-by-Mail Equipment
Tritek features patented Vote-By-Mail technology. Each Vote-By-Mail Solution is custom designed and built for each voting district’s requirements. This includes floor space availability, volume fluctuations, and ballot designs. Portable and desktop systems are options for lower volume and limited space environments. Sorting bins are customized based on a voting district’s volume requirements. Tritek’s Correct Elect technology has an exemplary track record at many county election offices.
Tritek holds the exclusive patent on ballot method and apparatus. The VBM system provides a full audit trail, ballot process management, and status reporting. County election offices save ballot scans in color, grayscale, or black and white. Available options depend on available server space and local requirements. Signature verification reduces the labor costs of validation and compliance. Signatures detected with barcodes are verified by a database of registered voters.