By Lance Chilton
To any of you who might have heard our president’s rhetoric about the validity of the upcoming election, and harbor doubts, I can offer some reassurance. At least in our little corner of the universe, your ballot seems remarkably secure.
From my vantage point as a lowly clerk in the absentee ballot counting division, I can assure you that you don’t have to worry much about Bernalillo County’s election. Whether it’s the result of direction from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver or the careful supervision of County Clerk Linda Stover, this election’s processes are very carefully set forth and supervised.
I had never considered the steps necessary to securely conduct a largely mail-in ballot election until I set foot in the Voting Machine Warehouse on South Broadway a couple of weeks ago to help with processing ballots. Briefly, there are four phases of ballot preparation for counting, with heavy human involvement in each phase:
- Phase 1 involves checking the outer envelope for a signature and a part of the social security number of each voter. I worried that my signature might have changed since I registered to vote here 11 Presidential elections ago. Even if that’s true, however, it won’t disqualify my ballot here in New Mexico. We’re not like several other states (think MS, AR, TN, SD) that require a careful match of signatures.
- In Phase 2, we remove ballots from their outer envelope and place the inner envelope in trays of 25 ballots. If someone has forgotten to place the ballot in an inner envelope, that’s OK; the presiding judges look at the ballot and place it in an envelope.
- In Phase 3, we remove the inner envelope and place the unfolded ballots in another tray.
- Phase 4 uses a very rapid and high-quality scanner to scan both sides of every ballot.
At each stage, the number of ballots is checked and re-checked, to make sure every one is counted. Supervisors circulate through the room at all times – kindly people, but wanting to be certain that procedures are followed to the letter. If the numbers don’t match up exactly, a search is made to find out where the mistake occurred. If a cell phone comes out while ballots are on any table in the room, we’re gently chided.
I think everyone in the big room – the Phase 1 people to the west, the Phase 2 and 3 people in the space in the center, and the Phase 4 folks like me in the room to the north, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Decline to State alike – believes that the election is being carried out impartially and with integrity. Thanks to Ms. Stover and Ms. Toulouse Oliver and all those who are working for them!
I hope this account may calm anyone wondering whether their mailed-in absentee ballot has been received and properly handled to this point. If you can’t stand the suspense and want to check for yourself what’s happened with your ballot, go to https://voterportal.servis.sos.state.nm.us/WhereToVote.aspx, and enter your name, birth date and county. You’ll probably find, just as I did, that your ballot’s been accepted. And we can all keep our fingers crossed together.