Voting 101 With Santa Cruz County’s Chief Elections Official

Sep 30, 2020

This year, amid a pandemic, all registered voters in California will receive a ballot in the mail. Locally, ballots are already beginning to arrive. There’s a lot to keep track of and a lot of curiosity, like how is my signature verified? Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County’s chief elections official, answered our questions. 

  • Side Note: If you don’t receive your ballot by October 13 (October 12 is a postal holiday), you should contact your local elections official. You can also sign up to track your ballot from when it enters the mail stream to when it’s received and counted. 

OK, let’s get started with the Q and A: 

Erika Mahoney (EM): What are some common mistakes to avoid so that your ballot is counted? 

Gail Pellerin (GP): We often get households where spouses will sign the ballot for another spouse. And we do catch that. Your name will be printed on the ballot return envelope. And in larger households, make sure you're voting your ballot. Make sure you're using your envelope. Make sure you sign your name and make sure you get it back to us on time. Those are really the key things.  Also, I should say too that because we're mailing ballots to all voters, it's really important that we have the right information for you. So you can check your voter status at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov and that's a real important thing to do right now to make sure we're mailing materials to the right location.

(To register to vote, click here. The deadline is October 19, but you can do "same day voter registration.")

EM: What if you spill coffee on your ballot or you lose your ballot?

GP: So that does happen. It’s best to get a dry ballot so you can always call us for a replacement ballot. Or, you can go to one of our voting locations and get a replacement ballot. And if you never received your ballot or you lost your ballot or you made a mistake, I mean, if your mistake on your ballot is pretty simple, like you filled in the oval for “no” and you really wanted “yes,” you could just cross it out and correct it. But if you tear it, spill on it or you just lost it altogether, you need to get a new one.

EM: The signature on that ballot envelope is really important. How does the verification process work?

GP: Your signature is covered by a secrecy tab and then that tab gets pulled and then your signature on the envelope is compared to the signatures we have on file for you. So the signatures we have on file for you are anytime you've registered to vote; we'll have that signature. If you registered to vote online, the signature we have is the same one that's on your driver's license. And if you have voted by mail in the past, we'll have that signature as well. And we're looking for a comparison. We're not... this is not a penmanship test. It doesn't have to be exact. We're looking to confirm that it is indeed your ballot. If there is any question on whether it's your ballot, then it will go to a second elections clerk who will look at it and see if they can find a comparison. And if they can't, then it goes to the assistant county clerk or me. So we're the final say on whether a signature should be challenged. We do ask for your phone number or email on the ballot envelope so we can easily and quickly contact you if there's any question about your signature or lack of a signature.

EM: For months, the president has undermined confidence in mail voting. In Santa Cruz County, has voter fraud ever been a problem?

GP: No, it hasn't. I've been doing this job since 1993 and I've had one case of voter fraud where a landlord actually got the tenant’s ballot and voted it and signed, forged the name and sent it in. So we caught that through our regular signature checking processes. And that person was prosecuted. And, you know, it's unfortunate that the president's putting out these messages because it's the method of voting that he uses. So if it's good for the president, it's good for everybody else.

EM: How will voting by mail affect how long it takes to get results?

GP: California actually has been on the forefront of voting by mail, where we have... pretty much three quarters of our state does vote in that method. So it's not a big leap for us to do it statewide with all of our voters. Yes, it's more volume for some of us, there are actually fifteen counties that were already doing an all mail ballot election. So for us, it's about another forty some thousand ballots that will be coming in, hopefully. And, you know, we'll be processing them and doing our due diligence and getting those results and getting them counted as quickly as we can. 

  • Keep In Mind: Election night is just a snapshot of the results, Pellerin says. Officials do have until December 1 to certify the election. 

“Voting Matters” Zoom Event

On Thursday, October 1, Pellerin is hosting a “Voting Matters” zoom event at 6 p.m. She’s been hosting these virtual meetings to answer voter questions.

To join, use this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83963125578?pwd=OHZnTGIyZWJQaCt0cmZidWpJWmRldz09

Or, call 1-669-900-9128. The meeting ID is 839 6312 5578 and the passcode is 679197.

These events are being held every other Thursday up until November 3.