Behind the scenes: Securing absentee ballots

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Clerk’s Office provided a behind-the-scenes look at how absentee ballots are kept secure ahead of Election Day.

Given the spike in voting absentee this year and move by clerks to provide additional drop boxes for voters, News 8 wanted to track a ballot cast in the city.

“I think it’s great. It’s very convenient,” Scott Werner told News 8 as he dropped his ballot off at one of the six drive-up drop boxes Grand Rapids is offering for absentee ballot collection.

“I got to look at any candidates I wasn’t familiar with,” he explained as one reason he voted absentee. “I got to take the time to pull up their website and see what their stances are on issues rather than someone I didn’t know about, skipping it.”

The drop boxes are emptied multiple times a day by clerk staff. Those dropped in the city by voters who live in the jurisdiction are first taken to the Clerk’s Office downtown to be scanned into the database and given a signature check.

News 8 watched Werner’s ballot be scanned and given its initial security check Monday.

If the back of the envelope is left blank or the signature doesn’t match, a voter will be notified if it’s caught before Election Day.

Currently, Grand Rapids is averaging more than 2,000 absentees returned each day. Once one receives the initial security check, it’s transported to the city’s Election Central on Market Avenue.

Grand Rapids City Clerk Joel Hondorp gave News 8 inside access to the headquarters.

“These are ballots that have been returned by mail, by drop box or at our counter, and so we’ll sort them into precinct order. We’ll make sure that all of them have been scanned in, that their signatures have been checked. We’ll bundle them by precinct, and then we’ll keep them in storage until Election Day when we can count them,” Hondorp explained inside one of the secure rooms where ballots are stored.

You can’t access different spaces throughout the building without a security badge. And the computers used for elections aren’t hooked up to the internet to eliminate hacking concerns.

“Not even custodial staff (has access), so we have to put trash cans outside. We have to ask for custodial services when we’re here because that way, only clerk staff has access to this room,” Hondorp said while standing in one of the restricted access rooms.

The absentee ballots will be transported to their corresponding precincts once it’s time to prepare for tabulation. For the first time this year, clerks in qualifying jurisdictions will be given 10 hours of pre-processing to prepare further the ballots to be counted on Election Day.

At that point, Hondorp said there is not much clerks can do to help a voter who made a mistake. It’s imperative that directions are followed, which are sent with each absentee ballot.

“When it goes through a tabulator, there’s no way to let a voter know if they made an error or not,” he said. “So, they really need to know what they’re doing when they’re voting absentee.”

Statewide, voters can track their absentee ballot by entering their information on the state’s website.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!

News 8 Links