How Vote By Mail Ballots Are Counted

We welcome and encourage members of the public to visit our office and observe how we process and count ballots.
Once ballots are returned to Yolo County Elections, the ballot will follow several steps before being tabulated and added to results:

1. Sorting: Yolo County Elections utilizes a mail sorting machine provided by Runbeck Election Services, Inc. This machine will first scan the returned ballot packets for the voter’s signature. It will also scan a barcode to acknowledge receipt. Once the signature has been verified or challenged, the verified ballot packet will be cut open by the machine. Challenged ballot packets will be held in secure storage, not to be counted, until the challenge has been resolved and the signature verified.

2. Signature Verification: Before any ballot is counted, we must compare the signature provided with the signatures on file in the voter’s record. Our staff look for similar characteristics, such as height, slant, and spacing of letters. If the signatures match, the ballot packet will go next to opening. If not, the ballot packet is flagged for further review. This requires the voter to resolve the issue before their ballot can be counted. Many challenges occur simply because the voter did not sign the return envelope. Most others are because the signatures do not match closely enough. If there is an issue of any kind, Yolo County Elections contacts the voter by letter, as well as by phone and email if we have that contact information on record. All instructions the voter needs to resolve the issue are included and our contact information is highlighted strongly for anyone with questions.

3. Opening: Opening is one of the most labor intensive steps in the process. Working in teams of two, openers work batches of 600 Vote-by-Mail return envelopes at a time. First, they remove the voted ballot from the return envelope. This is the moment in which the voter’s identity is forever severed from their ballot and their selections. Next, once all return envelopes have been emptied, they are zip tied together. Finally, ballots are unfolded and inspected to ensure they will go through the scanner with no issues. Ballots with physical damage are sent to Ballot duplication teams of two who will manually duplicate the ballot.

4. Scanning: A machine scans the ballots, front and back, and stores the digital image on our secure, closed system for tabulation.

5. Ballot Review: Once ballots are scanned; ballot review staff work to review all questionable marks and to ensure votes are counted as the voter intended. Staff use the Voter Intent Manual from the California Secretary of State’s Office to consistently determine voter intent across county.

6. Tabulation: Tabulation occurs after 8 p.m. on Election Day when initial results are produced and made public. Ballots continue to be processed, votes counted, and results shared until the election is certified. Certification periods differ based on the type of election and range from 28 to 30 days.

7. Results: Initial results are posted to the Yolo County Elections website around 8:15 p.m. on Election Day and generally include results from vote by mail ballots received by our office prior to Election Day. Following the initial posting, updated results are posted on our website based on canvassing progress and will be announced on the county’s social media platforms.