It has been identified that the ballot for the September 14, 2021 election can be inserted into the return envelope in such a way that the oval associated with a NO vote can be seen through a hole punched in the envelope. This is an unfortunate and truly random coincidence, although one that we believe is easily remediable by how the ballot is inserted into the envelope. We encourage all voters to insert the ballot into the envelope in any of the orientations that will not align the NO Oval with the pre-punched hole. Voters may also fold their ballots in reverse along the existing fold lines so that the blank back portion of the ballot is facing the outside of the envelope, stick a piece of paper between the ballot and the side of the envelope with the visible hole, or vote in person on Election Day at the voter’s assigned polling place.
Election integrity, including ballot security, is a principal concern of our office. For example, Placer County was one of the first in our state to use an envelope that incorporated an oversized flap that, once sealed in place, covered the signature of the voter. We were also one of the first to print the voter’s residence address (in addition to the voter’s mailing address) on permanent vote by mail ballot envelopes because many of our voters did not realize their failure to provide their residence address would make their ballots uncountable.
In each of these examples, those features we added to the envelope could be argued to have flaws. Despite our repeated attempts to make the signature line clearly identifiable, there are still voters who close the flap and then either don’t realize to sign or don’t know where to sign their envelopes. Similarly, the preprinted residence address on the permanent vote by mail envelope can raise eyebrows as a security concern.
In that same vein, the hole that is drilled through the return envelope has an election integrity purpose. It is there to prove that all eligible ballots have been removed from envelopes after signature verification and that we did not leave any ballots (purposefully or negligently) in those envelopes. Without that hole, the only way to prove this to election observers is to open envelopes one by one to any and all comers to show the envelopes are empty. With over 240,000 vote by mail ballot envelopes returned last election, that’s a lot of envelopes to open and inspect.
There have been voters over the years who have questioned the need of the hole in the envelope. When we explained it, they seemed satisfied when they realized the hole was there for a very important purpose. There are some voters who take the extra precaution of placing their envelopes into secondary envelopes or delivering their ballots directly to the Elections Office, which we encourage for those who are concerned.
Having said all this, we constantly strive to do better each election and we will certainly look at this process to see if there are improvements to be made. Perhaps we can make the hole smaller or, when the timelines are not as compressed as they were for this election, see if there is a similar issue with seeing votes through the envelope that can be addressed with some tweaks during ballot production.
We hope you understand some of the reasons why the hole exists and you accept our promise to see what if anything can be done before we quickly begin to prepare for the June 2022 primary election.
We also encourage any person who is concerned or interested in our processes to come to our office and observe any and all of them in person. There is no appointment necessary and any person is welcome to come in and observe anytime our office is open. Feel free to contact our office to inquire about specific processes or come in any time.