How Votes are Counted
Before a ballot can be tabulated there are multiple verification steps & safeguards that are put in place to ensure the ballot is valid.
When explaining how ballots are counted, it’s important to distinguish between a ballot that is cast early and a ballot that is cast on election day. This can impact the process each ballot goes through before final tabulation. Every single voter’s identification is verified regardless of what type of ballot they cast.
An early ballot is any ballot distributed to a voter prior to election day. For every election, early voting begins 27 days prior to the election. An early ballot package consists of the actual ballot, instructions on how to complete the ballot and the early ballot affidavit envelope. The early ballot affidavit envelope is used to verify the voter’s identity through signature verification. An early ballot cannot be counted unless the voter signs the EBA and the county subsequently confirms the signature matches the voter’s registration record. Once the County Recorder confirms the signature on the EBA matches the voter’s record, the ballot is transmitted to the elections office for tabulation.
Election Day Ballots
When a voter enters a voting location on Election Day, they must provide satisfactory identification in order to receive their official ballot. Once the voter receives and votes their ballot, one of two things can occur. Some counties utilize a method called “central count” and other counties utilize a method called “precinct tabulation”.
If a voter is in a central count county, the voter would deposit their voted ballot into a secured ballot bin. After the polls close, the secured ballots are transported back to election central (the location used by the county to tabulate the ballots) by election workers, whom of which are of a different political party.
If a voter is in a precinct tabulation county, the voter or the poll worker would run their voted ballot through the tabulation machine located in the voting location. The machine immediately tabulates the ballot and saves the vote counts to a removable media device located inside the tabulator.
The counties must adhere to chain of custody protocols. This means that there is a log/paper trail for every single ballot. This includes all early ballots and all ballots at voting locations. Ballots are stored in secure locations and there is a live video feed to the ballot tabulation room for every county. Counties must follow the procedures manual for ensuring the physical security of all ballots. This includes the use of tamper evident seals, identification badges, the presence of two or more staff members of opposite political affiliations, audits, etc.
After early ballots have been processed to confirm the voter’s identity, the ballots are transmitted to the early ballot board which consists of volunteers of opposite party affiliations, they then remove the ballot from the affidavit envelope and prepare to transmit the ballot to the tabulation room. Once the ballots have been transmitted to the tabulation room, election staff begins running the ballots through the tabulators. The ballot tabulation room is required by law to have a live feed so voters can watch all of the activity during tabulation.
For ballots that have been tabulated at the voting location, after the polls closed, the poll worker or sheriff deputies, transmit the removable media that contains the results recorded at the voting location and transmit those results to the central count location. The election official then loads those results into the secure election management system and aggregates the vote totals for all voting locations.
Every single piece of tabulation equipment is tested and certified before and after the election. The County must test all of the election equipment before tabulation can begin. On top of that, the Secretary of State’s Office conducts a random test of the election equipment before the machines begin tabulation. L&A tests are open to the public and political party observers are usually in attendance. A new round of L&A testing is done by the counties after the election, to once again confirm the machines are tabulating correctly.
Voters can verify their ballot was counted at arizona.vote.
Maricopa County voters can track their ballot here: https://recorder.maricopa.gov/Elections/BeBallotReady/ and sign up for text and email alerts of their ballot status at: https://recorder.maricopa.gov/subscriptions/
Navajo County voters can track their ballot here: https://navajocountyvotes.ballottrax.net/voter/
Pima County voters can track their ballot here: https://www.recorder.pima.gov/VoterStats/BallotInfo