Kern County elections chief Karen Rhea has heard the worries about voter fraud and the allegations this presidential election might be “rigged.”
She’s gotten the phone calls. She’s not buying it.
If you stop to listen for a minute, she’s happy to tell you how her office prevents fraud:
• People can’t just grab someone’s ballot, fill it out and mail it in for them.
Vote-by-mail voters must provide their driver’s license or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they register to vote. And the Kern County Elections Division checks out each one, she said.
They also have to sign the form.
That signature is a big deal.
“When those ballots are returned, the signature on that envelope is checked to make sure they match,” Rhea said.
If the signature doesn’t match, the sealed ballot doesn’t even get opened.
“We can pull up a signature from all members of the household,” she said. “We do catch wives voting for their husbands and vice versa. We don’t count it.”
If a ballot comes in unsigned, the elections office contacts the voter and he or she can come in to sign it. If no one does, the ballot isn’t counted.
Every ballot with a signature is reviewed six times by six different people — the last time by Rhea herself — to make sure the signature matches the one on the registration form.
• But what about folks who send in their vote-by-mail ballot and then vote a second time at the polls?
“The rosters we print for the polling place have an indication of whether they have been issued a VBM ballot. They have to surrender that VBM ballot or vote provisionally,” Rhea said.
And provisional ballots — those cast at the polls by mail voters or by people whose registration status cannot be immediately verified — are investigated before being ruled valid.
Elections officials verify the provisional voters’ right to vote, where they’re registered to vote, and in what races they have to the right to vote.
“The investigation for one provisional ballot can take anywhere from one minute to 15 minutes,” Rhea said.
That’s why counting 20,000 to 30,000 provisional ballots Kern County receives every election takes weeks.
Anyone caught voting provisionally after voting by mail will be referred to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution, Rhea said.
• Can’t voting machines be hacked, though?
Rhea said the machines aren’t connected to the internet.
The voter enters his or her vote on a touch screen and the machine transfers that vote onto a spool of paper sealed inside the machine. Elections workers take that spool of paper and transcribe the votes onto an official ballot form.
“The touch screens are basically a giant ink pen now,” Rhea said.
What stops elections workers from writing in whomever they want?
“Four people watch that. One reading (the ballot), one watching the person reading, one marking and one watching the person marking,” Rhea said. “And it’s all being videotaped. You cannot walk in our office without being videotaped.”
• But somebody could sneak in and tamper with things….right?
Wrong, Rhea said.
All secure areas of her office, where ballots are stored and data entered, can only be entered by two people with electronic badges.
“And you are being videotaped,” Rhea said. “All server contact is logged.”
And then there are the observers.
Every election — especially the close ones — are watched obsessively by campaign staffers from both sides.
They are allowed to watch the counting, challenge ballots and make sure everything is on the up-and-up.
All that work is designed to make sure every voter who abides by the rules has his or her votes counted and democratic voice heard.
But before Rhea’s office can do all that work to protect your vote, she said, you have to cast it.
She has some advice on that front as well.
First: Vote early.
Rhea said the ballot is long and voters will have to take some time to fill it out. That could mean long lines at the polls on Election Day.
But voters can cast their ballots early at the Kern County Elections Division offices on the first floor of the Kern County Administrative Center at 1115 Truxtun Ave.
And vote-by-mail voters can hand in their ballots during special curbside drop-off events outside that building from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 and all day on Election Day, which is Nov. 8.