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Group asks for ballot security

Posted: March 27, 2012 10:06 p.m.
Updated: March 27, 2012 10:06 p.m.

A group of Democrats in the Santa Clarita Valley called for increased security in storing absentee ballots during a City Council meeting Tuesday night — the last meeting before the April 10 City Council election.

Members of Democratic Alliance for Action asked that city officials look into opening and counting ballots at the same time as the poll’s ballots, lock the absentee ballots in a secure location with two different keys held by two different people, and videotape the entrance of the locked location, according to a release sent out by the Democratic Alliance for Action.

Carole Lutness, a member of Democratic Alliance for Action, said she proposed the resolution because she and a number of other people have had similar concerns about the security of absentee ballots during past elections.

“We’re not criticizing as much as we’re looking to improve the processes,” Lutness said during a phone interview Monday.

A total of eight people voiced concerns about the absentee ballot security during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Valerie Thomas, a Newhall resident, said that she grew up in Chicago — a city somewhat notorious for dirty politics — and said she didn’t want to see the same thing happen in Santa Clarita.

“(In Chicago), we had such responsibility that even our dead vote,” Thomas said. “These suggestions that have been made to you this evening are just pure common sense.”

In response to resident’s concerns, City Manager Ken Pulskamp said that the ballots are extremely secure.

“We take the security of those ballots extraordinarily seriously,” Pulskamp said. “This is one of those items that there’s absolutely no room for error.”

All four council members present at Tuesday night’s meeting asked that staff look into the security of absentee ballots.
City Spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said Monday that the city has always had above-board elections because the process is very public.

“We have a 100 percent record of above-board, timely, efficient, legal elections with really no complaints or concerns about the process because the process is very public,” Ortiz said.

Absentee ballot
City Clerk Sarah Gorman explained Monday that the city goes through an exact process when going through the absentee ballots.

Unopened envelopes containing ballots are stamped with the dates and times they came in, then have the signatures on the outside checked, Gorman said.  A specially designed machine checks the signatures on the envelopes against an electronic copy of the signature given by the voter during registration, or is checked visually.

Throughout the ballot processing, anyone who works with the ballots has to sign an oath that they will uphold the law,

Gorman said. At least two people are required to be with the ballots at all times when they are outside the locked cabinet that they are stored in.

While still in the unopened envelopes, the ballots are cross-checked with the actual voter rolls, Gorman said. As of Friday, 5,495 ballots had been returned.

The ballots remain unopened until the Tuesday before Election Day — April 3 this year — when members of the vote by mail processing board convene in the third floor conference room to check ballots for staples, paperclips, or ballots not marked dark enough, Gorman said. The voting board consists of city staff and volunteers who are sworn in, and no food, drink, or casual conversations are allowed.

Members of the public who want to see the process for themselves are allowed to watch, as long as they are also sworn in.

“This is a public process,” Ortiz said.

The election consultant that the city would have to decide if the process could be changed, Ortiz said.

“We would check to see what is legal and what is not,” Ortiz said. “It would probably extend the wait (for election results) for a week.”


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