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The Elections Office on Nov. 3, 2020 shortly
after polls closed. Photo: YubaNet

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. November 5, 2020 – Counting ballots accurately takes time, and complete results can’t be expected overnight. Asking for a schedule when updates will be published is equally reasonable. Transparency reinforces confidence in the process.

By close of business today, State election law requires all county elections offices to transmit the number of unprocessed ballots to the Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State’s Office released the estimated unprocessed ballots tally promptly at 5:00 pm today.

For Nevada County: 29,000 vote by mail ballots, 100 provisional ballots, 600 conditional voter registration provisional ballots and 200 other (unprocessed ballots that are damaged or could not be machine-read and need to be remade, and ballots diverted by optical scanners for further review) remain to be counted.

There has been no update from the elections office since election night.

More ballots than ever before received ahead of Election Day

Leading up to Election Day, voters mailed in and dropped off their voted ballots in record numbers. The Elections Office published the number of vote by mail ballots received, complete with party affiliation breakdown. On Nov. 2nd, the day before the election, 51,994 (73%) of Nevada County ballots had been received, according to the Elections Office’s website.

Screenshot of Nevada County Elections Office website at https://www.mynevadacounty.com/2922/November-3-2020-Presidential-General-Ele

The party affiliation breakdown is derived from the voter registration cards used to verify the signature on the vote by mail ballot. Checking the signature on the outer envelope of a ballot is the first step in counting an eligible ballot. Once the signature is verified, the actual ballot is extracted, then sorted and finally scanned. Each step is done by a different set of election staff, with 2-person verification/chain of custody procedures.

Why so few counted?

The third update on election night was handed to the two reporters and two stringers (temporary workers) patiently sitting in the deserted lobby of the Nevada County Elections Office since the close of polls around 11:30 pm. 30,488 votes had been counted, 40.94% of 74,467 ballots issued, according to the update.

Asked why only roughly 25,000 of these ballots were counted on Election Day, Assistant Registrar of Voters Natalie Adona said, “You know I am short-staffed.”

On October 2, 2020 we reported two senior election staff quit and included a statement from Adona’s boss, Nevada County Registrar of Voters Greg Diaz. At the time, Diaz stated, in part: “Our procedures are not dependent upon a single staff person or two.  We have an amazing staff in place and many experienced office temps and vote center managers as we prepare to make voting easy and safe for all our citizens in Nevada County who are lawfully ready and able to vote.  In an abundance of caution, we will be adding additional vendor support for election day activities including tabulating and reporting results.” [Full story here]

During a presentation to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors on October 13th, Adona and Diaz stated in their staff report “The state further provided resources to help counties better recruit election workers, communicate with voters about statewide changes, retain voting locations, and keep those locations and elections headquarters powered.” [source: Supporting documents for agenda item 30 on Oct. 13, 2020] At the time, supervisors lauded the presentation and extended offers of resources and support to the Elections Office.

For this election, county elections officials were allowed to begin opening and processing vote-by-mail ballot envelopes up to 29 days before Election Day. No processed votes could be accessed or shared with the public until all polls closed on Election Day.  

In addition to the elections staff, approximately 30 county staff took shifts to staff vote centers, empty drop boxes and return ballots and equipment on election day.

What’s happening now?

Candidates and voters want to stay informed of progress made as the majority of local races is too close to call. Yesterday, we asked for a schedule when updated vote counts would be released by the Elections Office. We were unable to get an answer in person and our email request has received no reply as of publication time.

State law requires county elections officials to report their final results for presidential electors to the Secretary of State by December 1, 2020, and all other state contests by December 4, 2020. The Secretary of State has until December 11, 2020, to certify the results of the election.