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City begins sorting vote-by-mail ballots

Posted: April 3, 2012 2:45 p.m.
Updated: April 3, 2012 9:19 p.m.

Vote-by-mail processing board members Lori Powell, left, and Teresa Walls sort absentee ballots by precinct order and separate them into smaller groups to facilitate counting at Santa Clarita City Hall on Tuesday.

The big table in the Santa Clarita City Hall third-floor conference room was covered with boxes of yellow or white ballots Tuesday as eight workers sorted them by precinct and grouped them in batches of 20.

Six observers sworn to uphold the law - four community members and two journalists - watched from behind a chain, well beyond reach of the vote-by-mail ballots and under the scrutiny of the workers.

It was the first day of a week-long session to prepare mail-in ballots for counting on Election Day Tuesday, when two City Council members will be selected.

"I tell you what flabbergasts me is the number of absentee ballots," observer Valerie Thomas said. "The election happens here."

As of Monday, 8,620 vote-by-mail ballots had been received, said City Clerk Sarah Gorman. On Monday alone, 465 ballots arrived.

During the last City Council election in 2010, 67 percent of those who voted cast their ballots by mail or provisionally.

Although the city does not count vote-by-mail ballots before Election Day, the ballots are prepared for counting starting one week before the polls open, Gorman said.

Upon a ballot's arrival at the city clerk's office, the signature on the outside of the envelope is checked against the voter's signature that was provided during voter registration, Gorman said.

A special machine checks most of the ballots, but if the signature cannot be verified Gorman checks them, with some ballots eventually sent to the county Registrar of Voters for verification.

Before the members of the vote-by-mail processing board meet, they are sworn in by Gorman. Members of the public are welcome to watch the ballot sorting, but must also be sworn in.

All of the ballots that were being processed Tuesday already had their signatures verified, Gorman said. The ballots were sorted into their respective precincts and grouped in batches of 20 for counting.

"The ultimate goal is to prepare all the ballots to be read by the machine," Gorman said.

A machine opens all of the envelopes and the outer envelope is taken off. The ballots are inspected to make sure they can be run through the machine, including checking to make sure the marks are dark enough to be read, that there aren't any paper clips or staples in the ballot, and that the ballot isn't damaged.

Once the vote-by-mail ballots are processed, they are placed in a secure location in the city clerk's office and cannot be opened or removed until Election Night. The votes will be counted after the polls close.

"That's the result of (the efforts of the processing board), that we can have the results up faster," Gorman said.

The processing board will be convening every day for the rest of the week from 9 a.m. to noon to prepare the ballots.

For more information about the Santa Clarita City Council election, visit




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