A Citizen’s Guide to Absentee Ballots: By JUDY BERTELSEN

Special to the Planet
Friday August 27, 2004

The Nov. 2 presidential election is about two months away. What can we do to make sure our votes are counted?  

We hear news every day about the well-documented flaws and weaknesses of paperless touch-screen voting technology. Many people are aware that if they cast their votes on a paperless voting machine there will be no physical paper record to be used in a recount. And how will registrars of voters hand count a sample of the votes to check against the electronic totals, as required by law?  

Althoug h our California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has taken courageous steps to improve security for the November election, the paperless machines will be in many voters’ polling places, including Alameda County.  

And then there is all the speculation ab out possible catastrophic events on election day: snafus at the polls that might make it impossible for many to vote, terrorist attacks on election day, etc., etc.  

What’s a voter to do?  

Here are some specific steps one you can take both to maximize th e likelihood that your vote will be counted for the candidates and issues you support, and to strengthen election day procedures for everyone:  


To Protect Your Vote 

Cast a recountable paper ballot. Either vote absentee, or request a paper ballot in your polling place on election day. 

In California, you cannot be required to vote on a paperless electronic machine. You must be provided a paper ballot if that is your preference. If you vote absentee, you will avoid possible long lines and will take pressu re off of the polling places on election day. 


Absentee Voting  

An absentee ballot is a “voter-verified” paper ballot: it is a paper document that you fill out (and sign the envelope). After being counted, your absentee ballot will be retained by the Reg istrar of Voters in the pool of paper ballots to be randomly sampled as a check against the machine totals. And it will be available for hand count, should the machine totals be questioned. If you vote on the paperless electronic machine, there will be no thing to hand count, should the electronic totals be questioned. Urge everyone you know to request an absentee ballot.  


How to Cast an Absentee Ballot 

Your absentee ballot will be mailed to you in the month before the election. Your completed absentee b allot must be received by the Registrar of Voter by the close of voting: 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2 (not just postmarked) or it will not be counted. You may mail your ballot to the Registrar of Voters, hand deliver it to the office, or turn it in to any po lling place in your county on election day before the polls close. 

Be sure to sign your absentee ballot envelope. Registrar of Voters staff check for signatures and will throw out any ballots that do not include the signature. This step assures that each voter casts only one ballot. Once your envelope is received and checked off, it is opened and your ballot (which of course does not have your name) is retained for counting. 

Be sure your signature matches the one the Registrar of Voters has on file for you. If you can’t remember how you signed your registration card, you can do one of two things: Either re-register and keep a copy of your registration so you’ll remember how you signed, or go to the office and ask a staff member to show you the signature they have on file. You can do this when you turn in your ballot—just be sure not to sign the ballot envelope until you see the signature they have on file. Do this well in advance of election day to avoid long lines or delays. 

If you are registered in a nother city or state, either re-register here or apply for an absentee ballot now. If you are a resident of a swing state, you may wish to consider registering and voting absentee from that state. You’ll need to contact your home county Registrar of Voter s indicating your wish to vote absentee.  

What are the swing states? The polling data keep changing. Here is a list of 22 possible swing states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hamp shire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin. 


If for any reason it is not possible for you to register and vote absentee in your home state, you can register here if you claim California as you r domicile. At the time you register, you can request to be made a permanent absentee voter.  


What More Can I Do? 

• Plan to take election day off from work or school and volunteer your time to help the election go smoothly. Election day poll watching/mo nitoring activities are currently being planned throughout the country. Visit the websites www.votewatch.us and www.votersunite.org for information about how to take action. You can volunteer to serve as a poll worker for the Registrar of Voters office (272-6971). If you are a techie, consider joining VerifiedVoting.org’s Tech Watch project: http://vevo.verifiedvoting.org/techwatch. 

• Locally, encourage voters to vote absentee. Distribute a simple and clear brochure about absentee voting (why, how, when, etc.). In Alameda County a copy of such a brochure is available from East Bay Votes; telephone them at 834-4180, or look for their website which will be up soon. 

• Urge everyone you know who has not voted absentee to request a paper ballot at the polls on election day. In California, this is permitted by the Secretary of State. You cannot be required to vote on a paperless electronic machine in California. You must be provided a paper ballot at the polling place, if that is your preference.