Frequently Asked Questions about elections integrity and the Placer County Elections Office
There has been significant discussion since the November 2020 Presidential Election about the security and integrity of elections in general and of the Dominion Voting System in particular. Whether the discussion comes from a credible news story or an unsourced rumor, you can be sure that the Placer County Elections Office is concerned about each and every report and does what we can to show how we have mitigated the problem or how the issue does not affect our operations. Our procedures were examined by the 2020-2021 Placer County Grand Jury and the report found “that the Placer Elections Office management and staff are doing an outstanding job planning and preparing for the upcoming general election.” Likewise, we have welcomed the Placer County Republican Party, the Placer County Democratic Party, Elections Integrity Project, CA, and numerous other individuals and organizations to tour our office, stay as long as they wish (in some instances days or weeks), and examine all of our processes. We are proud of our reputation with these organizations and with the public at large. Below are some of the common areas of concern and how we address each area.
The use of paper ballots in Placer County
Every vote in Placer County is cast and counted on paper ballots. There are no electronic ballots cast or counted in Placer County. Even our touchscreen ballot marking devices, which are required by federal law in each polling place to allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently, do not record or save an electronic vote, they are designed to print a paper ballot that is used for counting.
Information on Dominion Voting Systems used in Placer County
Placer County Elections uses the Dominion Voting System Democracy Suite for ballot design, layout, and tabulation. The Dominion system is an approved system at the federal level and has passed the California certification process. The California certification process is extensive and includes independent: functional testing, usability/accessibility/privacy testing, hardware testing, software testing, telecommunications testing, security testing and quality assurance and configuration management . The details of the state’s certification process. As well as test reports, use procedures, source code review reports and certification documents, can be found on the California Secretary of State’s website here https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ovsta.
Placer County does not use any vendor staff for any part of the election process. This includes ballot design and layout, pre-election logic and accuracy testing, voting equipment programming, or ballot tabulation. All of these procedures are performed by Placer County Elections staff. We do hire temporary staff to help with processing vote by mail ballot envelopes, answering voter telephone calls, and other functions. All temporary staff are background checked and fingerprinted before working in the office.
Placer County vote tabulation servers are completed isolated within the Placer County Elections Office. Placer County vote tabulation servers are never connected to the internet or any WIFI networks. The only people with user accounts or physical access to our servers are Placer County permanent employees.
No voter information, vote tallies or tabulation is ever stored in the cloud. All databases and servers are on premises in the Placer County Elections office and are managed by Placer County Elections permanent IT staff.
All portions of voting equipment testing, voting equipment programming, voting equipment chain of custody, and ballot tabulation is open to any member of the public during normal or posted business hours, including any time we are working after hours or on weekends.
Our facility, including our computer room, is monitored by cameras 24/7 and all of those images are kept for 22 months, just like all election material, so we can show who has had access to our ballot counting room during the election
Election Audit Information
The Placer County Elections Office performs public post-election audits of our vote count for every election and has performed audits since at least 1992. Placer County Elections performs a hand count of all ballots in a randomly selected set of precincts in order to confirm the ballot scanners correctly tabulated the votes reported on election night. When specific races on the ballot are NOT selected in that random selection process, then more precincts are added to include those contests. The hand count includes both a hand count of centrally tabulated vote by mail ballots and a hand count of ballots tabulated on polling place voting equipment.
These hand counts are performed by Placer County Elections permanent staff and are assisted by Placer County Elections temporary staff. No Dominion Voting Systems staff or subcontractors are part of the hand count audit process in any way. Every piece of voting equipment used in the election has a set of diagnostics run on it after election day to ensure the machine is still working correctly. If any piece of equipment does not pass these diagnostic tests, the ballots from that precinct will be recounted centrally by Placer County Election staff.
All aspects of hand count auditing and post-election equipment diagnostics are open to the public. Placer County Elections does not perform any of these processes outside of normal or posted office hours, including any time we are working after hours or on weekends.
These audits were conducted for the November 2020 election and, after hand counting 64,142 ballots (or 26.8% of all ballots cast in Placer County), the hand count of scanned ballots and the machine count of scanned ballots matched.
Additionally, following the September 14, 2021 recall election, we hand counted 100% of the ballots cast in our polling places to double check the vote counting software and all hand counts matched the machine counts. In the recall election, we also hand counted 29,894 vote by mail ballots to audit the scanners in our office. Again, the hand count of scanned ballots and the machine count of scanned ballots matched.
Vote by Mail Signature Checking
In Placer County, every single vote by mail ballot that is returned to the office has the voter signature checked against the voter’s signature on his/her voter registration card (or DMV signature if the voter registration was completed online). This is not performed by random sample of envelopes, by a percentage of ballots returned, or only for new vote by mail voters – we compare every signature on every envelope for every election. While we do have envelope scanning equipment that can perform rudimentary signature comparisons, Placer County signature comparison is performed by Placer County Elections staff. All permanent Placer County Elections permanent staff have attended signature verification training with a retired FBI forensic document examiner (and any new staff hired after this writing will attend the same training as soon as it is offered again).
If the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file or the voter has forgotten to sign their envelope, then the ballot cannot be counted. When an envelope signature fails this comparison, the envelope is placed into a “challenged” status in our system and will elevate to additional review by higher level Placer County Elections staff. There are many instances, such as people in the same household signing each other’s envelopes or signatures placed outside the scanned envelope image, where a supervisor or manager can approve a signature when a first-level reviewer cannot.
Once a ballot is placed into challenged status, the Placer County Elections Office generates a letter to the voter, which is mailed the next business day and it alerts the voter to the signature match failure. The letter has two purposes: 1) it warns the voter to potential fraud so the voter can immediately contact us and we can begin an investigation, and 2) it provides the voter whose signature has changed due to injury, illness, age, or other factors with a path to remedy the mismatching signature problem so his/her ballot can be processed and counted. The entire process of vote by mail signature checking, ballot extraction and sorting is open to the public during normal or posted business hours, including any time we are working after hours or on weekends.