What happens to your ballot after it’s slipped into the official drop box?

By Giuliana Mayo

Election workers sort ballots at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, California, U.S., November 1, 2022. Photo by Mike Blake/REUTERS.

All voting methods — early, in person, by mail, or a drop box — are overseen by county registrars. In these politically volatile times, they’re facing lies and conspiracies about voter fraud, and even threats to them and their poll workers. In response, many are making the election process as transparent as possible and trying to answer all voters’ questions and concerns.

KCRW talks about the challenges of election season with Riverside County Registrar Rebecca Spencer and Orange County Registrar Bob Page.

Orange County’s drop boxes are very secure, according to Bob Page. They weigh over 1,000 pounds and are bolted to concrete in 121 locations throughout the county. 

Then there are the teams of people collecting the ballots and the security measures that they have to follow: “​​We collect those ballots pretty much every day. And we've sent 10 two-person teams to all the boxes to pick those ballots up. We track their GPS location at all times using their phone. We're also in constant radio contact with them. When they show up at a drop box and empty the ballots out of it, they have to send us two photos, one showing that the box has been emptied, and that our fire suppression device is still intact inside the box. Then they also take a photo of the box once it's been closed with an election seal sticker over the door so that we know that they properly sealed it.”

Once the votes get to Orange County’s offices, there are transparency measures so voters can observe the count as it happens. “We have some live streams of overhead cameras in our facility. And we're open to anyone who wants to come [to the offices] to observe,” Page says. 

Riverside has a similar setup for in-person and virtual observation of the vote count. “People that come into our office to observe, they generally leave feeling much better about the process and having a lot more confidence,” shares Spencer.

Having so many ways to observe elections is somewhat new and has been precipitated by false claims of massive voter fraud across the country, something Spencer notes is part of her everyday reality now. “It's definitely just become part of the job, and we have to just make sure that the truth and facts are out there, and really take the time to educate the public.”

Page says this scrutiny ramped up after the 2020 presidential election. “We get a lot more questions from voters, whether it's online or calls to us. And in California, in the voter Bill of Rights, voters have the right to observe our processes, they have a right to ask questions about our processes, and we have an obligation to answer them.” 

Neither registrar has had issues with observers carrying weapons, as has been seen at Arizona drop boxes, but they do remain concerned about possible threats to voters and their staff. “I've had two basic responsibilities as registrar of voters in Orange County. I need to, one, make sure that the voters are able to safely exercise their right to vote, but I also need to protect the safety of my staff,” Page shares. Both registrars have partnered with local and federal agencies as part of administering their elections.

Despite all the political tumult, Page remains hopeful for Orange County’s elections. 

“I feel like we're doing a good job of working with the community and inviting them into the process and communicating with them. … I'm still optimistic that we will get through this and through our efforts to be fully transparent and to communicate what we do I think will be helpful.”