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Friday Slide Show: The Ballot Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

23 October 2020

You can't have an election without a ballot. The ballot is, simply put, the record of someone's vote. Traditionally (but not always) it has been a piece of paper.

In the United States, the ballot is a secret one. You record your vote in private. And it is counted anonymously. No one can intimidate you because you vote alone. And no one can extract vengeance on you afterwards because no one knows how you voted.

In San Francisco we have used large heavy sheets on which we made a mark with a felt pen to cast our vote. When we finished going through the ballot and checking for any mistakes, we would walk the big sheets in their privacy wrapper to the scanner, feed each sheet in, hear the beep confirming both sides had been read and say goodbye to the poll workers.

Having the paper ballots makes it possible to recount a vote. Having the scanner makes it possible to get a count quickly, without manual tabulation.

We thought we'd devote this week's slide show to a portrait of a ballot. Our ballot.

It's a nice system, we've always thought.

But this year is different. There is a medical danger in congregating, in using the same pen as the people who voted before you, in going to and coming from the polling place.

And that has meant a shift from election day voting at a neighborhood polling place to mail-in voting.

The wheel has already been invented when it comes to mail-in voting. Some cities and indeed whole states have done it successfully for years.

In California this year, everyone registered to vote was mailed a mail-in ballot. If you prefer to vote at your polling place, you may. Just disregard the mailed ballot.

Voters can track their ballots as they are processed using the Voter Portal. Voters can also choose to receive automatic notifications on the status or their ballots via email, SMS text or voice call.

The wheel has been invented, as we said, and it is indeed round and rolling smoothly.

We thought we'd devote this week's slide show to a portrait of a ballot. Our ballot. Because that's the only one we have.

We start with the voting information pamphlet because that's where serious voting begins. It lists what we will actually have to vote on, the candidates and their statements, the propositions and their arguments for and against. It includes the text of those propositions as well.

Of course, the TV, radio and mail are full of advice about how to vote but we find none of it helpful. There are some informative Web sites, particularly those of public radio, for digging into the more contested issues.

But until you sit down in front of your own ballot, all the noise about voting and democracy and freedom is just lyrics without music. The ballot is where the action is, where the rubber meets the road, where the fat lady sings.

As we were preparing this piece, the New York Times reported that over 50 million Americans have already cast ballots for the Nov. 3 election 12 days from now. That has already surpassed the total early vote count in 2016 and over 38 percent of the total vote.

So here's to the ballot!

Update (28 Oct.): Earlier this week, we filled out our long ballot and, with no nearby drop-off location, took it to the Post Office. In California our ballots are tracked by the Secretary of State and we can get email, text and phone status updates.

Earlier today we tracked our ballot and helped two others who had mailed their ballots to track theirs. All three had been received by county election officials "and will be counted."

We found it reassuring to know our ballot was in the right hands well in advance of any deadline.

Ballet Tracking. According to the California Secretary of State's Web site, our ballot has been received by our county election officials "and will be counted."

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