2020 Election: Voting By Mail (with Bob Page)
In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Bob Page about secure, safe, and efficient voting options in this upcoming election.
FEATURING Bob Page
OCTOBER 16, 2020
27 MINUTES AND 49 SECONDS
In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Bob Page about secure, safe, and efficient voting options in this upcoming election.
About Bob Page: Mr. Page is responsible for all aspects of the election process for the county’s residents. He administers all local, state, and federal elections in the County of San Bernardino, including the management of voting systems, the employment and training of poll workers, election ballot processing, and vote tallying.
Learn more about Bob Page via https://www.sbcounty.gov/Main/Pages/DepartmentServices.aspx?ContactID=59
“ Well I would say that in this election we are seeing a number of states expanding the ability of their voters to vote by mail.”
- Bob Page on the topic of the expansion of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19.
“ [The County does] prepay the postage on return envelopes... we have a number of early vote sites and polling places... a number of mail ballot drop boxes, and finally, if somebody wants to vote in person that's still available.”
- Bob Page on the topic of the various options voters have when choosing how to submit their ballot.
“ I would advise not to wait until November 3rd to actually put [your ballot] in the mail.”
- Bob Page on the topic of voting early to ensure that your vote is counted.
Bob Page (San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters)
Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)
Alfredo Barcenas (UCR MPP Candidate, Dean’s Ambassador)
This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy: https://spp.ucr.edu/
Subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss an episode. Learn more about the series and other episodes via https://spp.ucr.edu/podcast.
2020 Election: Voting By Mail (with Bob Page)
Introduction: Welcome to Policy Chats, the official podcast of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. I’m your host, Maddie Bunting. Join me and my classmates as we learn about potential policy solutions for today’s biggest societal challenges.
Joining us today is San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, Bob Page. My fellow classmate, Alfredo Barcenas, and I chatted with him about the various ways to vote in this upcoming election.
Maddie Bunting: Well, Mr. Page, thank you so, so much for joining us today. We are so excited to speak with you about voting and voting by mail in this upcoming election. You are the Registrar of Voters for San Bernardino County. Across this country, as we all prepare and begin to vote, every state has different rules and policies, and within California, every county has different rules and policies. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order earlier this year stating that every registered voter in California will receive a vote by mail ballot for the upcoming election… It was possible to vote by mail in previous elections. So I'm just curious, why is voting by mail significant this year? It seems to be a large topic of conversation.
Bob Page: Well, first, I appreciate the question and I also appreciate the opportunity to talk today about this upcoming election. It’s very important for all of our voters in our region to understand what the potential changes are. and understand what receiving a mail ballot home means for them and what options are still available for them to cast a ballot. So the governor's executive order was just kind of the start of the process. That requirement from the state is actually now codified in the elections code. Assembly Bill 860 actually made that part of the law that we have to mail a ballot to all active registered voters. So the reason given in that legislation and as well as in the executive order, was it it was felt that at the time that we were discussing how to prepare for this election under the COVID pandemic, we still at the time had people at state which stay at home orders. The feeling was that what's going to be a way to provide a safe and secure way for everyone to have an opportunity to vote in this important election.
Maddie Bunting: Wonderful, voting by mail is one option, but there are many options with voting. Can you speak to how the county will ensure the safety of poll workers, as well as those who choose to vote in person, as many people may choose that option.
Bob Page: Yes. We are required, in addition to mailing about to every voter, we are also required to provide in-person voting opportunities, which includes not just polling places, but also our office of early voting started on Monday this week, in our office. We also open up five additional early voting locations throughout our county in Ontario, Victor Ville, Apple Valley, Joshua Tree, and another location here in the city of San Bernardino. The week of October 26. There'll be open all five days that week, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM. And so as well as then pulling places will be open for four days starting October 31st through November 3rd. And what we are doing is sure that our election workers, as well as voters are safe when they come into any of our locations, is that we have secured a large amount of personal protective equipment. So all of our election workers will be wearing face masks as well as plastic face shields over those. We're providing gloves, lots of hand sanitizer cleaning supplies. Our poll workers were election workers and had been trained that during the days of voting that they should clean the high touch surfaces throughout the day. And they're also being trained to implement social distancing guidance in our voting locations. One of the examples I'll give you is that we have printed probably a couple thousand floor stickers that say, you know, stands six feet apart and will be giving those selections workers to set up when people are standing in line to check in. We already have those set up in our hallway here at our office for early voting, but the same will be done at our other early voting sites and our polling locations. And finally, I'll say that if a voter comes into our voting location not wearing a face covering, we will purchase enough disposable face masks to offer those to the voters as well. If a voter still refuses to wear a face mask when they come in, we will offer it to everybody else who's in the room and all the other voters that are present, we will offer them a plastic face shield to wear to provide them with some extra protection because we can't mandate that a voter where a face covering while they're voting because the right to vote as a constitutional right, and that's not something that we can abridge. So we have to allow somebody to vote and we want to make sure we provide extra protection to those around them if somebody's not willing to wear a face mask.
Alfredo Barcenas: Great, thank you. And I think that's really important and I really appreciate you providing clarification on the importance of safety. And I think, you know, the importance of making sure everyone has the right to vote and providing, you know, any type of face covering for someone to be able to feel comfortable to vote. I want to ask a question and turn a little bit to the California voters Choice Act that knows a law that was passed in 2016 aimed at modernizing elections by allowing voters to choose how, when, and where to cast your ballot. So San Bernardino County doesn't follow that model, but I understand that you have evaluated it. How does your current model differ?
Bob Page: Well, what I would say is that for this election there'll be very little differences between how we operate our polling places and how counties that have adopted the voter's choice act operate their voting centers. And the reason I say that is that the only main difference between us and voter’s act county is that we assign voters within precincts to go to a specific polling place. And with a selection, as I mentioned, our polling places will be open for four days, which is more aligned with what above center would be and voter's choice that counties for this election actually had been allowed not to have to have their vote centers open for ten days before and only have to have them open the same days are polling places are open. The main difference really for this election is that we assign voters to appoint places. But the last point I'll make is that if somebody goes to a public place other than the one they've been assigned to, we can still assist them without them having to vote provisionally. We ahead of the March primary election, we purchased and implemented electronic rosters in our polling places, electronic poll pads, which has our entire roster of voters in our county on each polling place. So if somebody goes to the wrong polling place, we can still look them up, determine which ballot type they are, they're eligible to vote on. And if we don't have a printed version of that ballot in our polling place, we have at least three accessible ballot marking devices that they can use that has every single ballot type in our county available on it. So we still provide many of the services that they do at both centers. We provide if somebody misses the registration deadline of Monday, October 19th and shows up at our polling place and wants to vote, but isn't registered, we can do conditional voter registration or appointment place and give them a provisional ballot. We can do all the, all the same kind of things they do at a vote center.
Maddie Bunting: Interesting, and that actually sparks a question with me. You know, we all know states within the United States handle elections differently, including registration deadlines and various other factors of voting. Do you see other states following California in the California Voters Choice Act maybe extending same-day registration? Do you think we will continue to stay unique in those or do you think it will become more of a national precedent?
Bob Page: Well I would say that in this election we are seeing a number of states expanding the ability of their voters to vote by mail, which is the initial tenant of the Voter’s Choice Act is that all voters receive a vote by mail ballot. And then they have their option of either mailing it back or coming to a vote center to vote. So obviously with this election and with a pandemic, that's something that you're seeing that shift. It is typical in elections that when temporary changes are made like this for an election and they become popular, they can end up becoming the law and the procedure going forward. So I think time will tell it to see how this election goes, how many states continue that expansion of vote-by-mail and, going that direction. But I can't predict, but we'll see, we'll see what happens.
Maddie Bunting: Thank you. And so again, going back to within the state, voting is under county jurisdictions. So you represent San Bernardino County. How are you collaborating with neighboring registered voters or the California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, to ensure accurate and efficient election results?
Bob Page: Yeah, so the secretary of state has convened working groups or Task Forces going back to late March when we started first discussing how to conduct this election and what improvements we could make to ensure that voters could vote safely and securely. So those efforts have continued. They include not just counties and sanctuary states' offices, but they also include voter advocacy groups, representatives of special districts, cities. There have been some officials who worked for state legislators and those calls, so those have continued. We have weekly calls every Friday morning to talk about the latest issues and whatever's coming up that next week that's important for us to kinda hash through or, or talk about examples of things we're finding so that collaboration is ongoing. It's something that's obviously very important as we all try to work together to ensure that we identify the common messages, even though we might have some differences here and there in terms of how we conduct our elections that we still are, are focusing on the, on the bigger issues that we can make sure voters are informed of and have the information they need to be able to exercise their right to vote.
Maddie Bunting: Would you say that this election, the push to about has been greater than in past years, have you, from this state to the county level, has there been more marketing or more work into spreading the word just given COVID 19 and people perhaps feel uncomfortable with voting by mail or are voting in person. Have you seen a greater push this election?
Bob Page: I would say yes, but part of that is because the state law that was enacted for this election requires it. So we have expanded our voter education and community outreach efforts and we have been improving that communication. We have been making community presentations for the past six weeks or so. I've made about 30 presentations to various community groups and have another 30 or so that are planned between now and October 24th. We are not typically in our office, haven't had the budget for radio ads or that kind of thing, but the state did allocate some money in the budget for us to do an expanded voter education campaign. So we are adding, you know, paid advertisements and other, you know, developing videos and other things that we haven't had the resources to do in the past. So that's been a nice change to be able to better educate the voters about how they can exercise their right to vote.
Alfredo Barcenas: So, many people this year are going to be casting their ballot for the first time. And I'm sure Maddie, you remember when you voted for the first time and I still remember when I voted for the first time. This year, my sister is going to be one of those people who votes for the first time. So how can the county guarantee and ensure that their balance is going to be safe, confidential, and be counted as part of the November third general election?
Bob Page: So first I will say that we here at the register voters office, I'm sure at every other voter registrar's office throughout the state. We take our jobs very seriously and, and our responsibility to ensure that all voters who have the right to vote can exercise that, that we provide plenty of access, giving them, making sure all their options are available to them. And that's something we'll continue to do. As we mentioned at the beginning of this, we are mailing a ballot to everybody so that if they do not wish to vote in person because of the pandemic, they have that option. They don't need to come and interact with us in our office to do so. But all the other options are still available for people who wish to vote in person. So just quickly, just kinda outline what we're doing to ensure people have options and, and can choose what they believe is the safest way is that we do prepay the postage on return envelopes. So if somebody wants to use the US Postal Service to return their ballot, they don't have to pay anything to do so. Second, as I mentioned, we have a number of locations where we open up our office, Early Vote sites and polling places where if they want to vote at home on that ballot, put it in the envelope, sign it date it, seal it they don't necessarily have to check in and at a polling place or any of our sites, they can just come in and drop it off at one of those locations. Very quick, easy process. Additionally, we have expanded because the state required that we do so for this election, the number of mail ballot drop boxes that we offer in the marks of March election in the primary, we had about 56 drop-off locations, all the county other county library branches, as well as all the City Clerk's offices were places that are voters could drop off their mail ballot. We've now expanded that to 70 locations and we've moved from having those ballot boxes on the countertops in those facilities to being outdoor installed secure mail ballot drop boxes that we've been installing the last few weeks and putting at various locations in the county. The reason we made that decision was at the time we had to make that choice. County offices were still close to the public, a lot of city offices were still closed to the public. All county library branches were closed to the public that month. And I not knowing at that time what would be we'd be dealing with with COVID right now, made the choice that it was safer approach to install boxes outside so that if public access was restricted or limited to any of the traditional locations we used, voters still had a place that they could drop off their ballot. So that's another option that's available to them. And finally, if somebody wants to vote in the person that's still available. And the other, as I said, we've got a number of safety measures in place to ensure that they can do that safely and securely. The last thing I will say though is that while it's very important for us to make every effort to ensure that every ballot that we receive is counted. There are some cases where a mailbox sent to us is challenged and not actually taken out of the envelope and counted. So I want to use this as an opportunity to talk to the voters and remind them of the importance of some of the instructions. So the first is, is that if you're going to return a mail ballot in the envelope, it must be either dropped off at one of the locations. I said such as our office or a dropbox by 8:00 PM on November 3rd. The other option is if you use a postal service, it must be postmarked by November 3rd. So if you're dropping it off in a mailbox, make sure you look at what the next pickup time is and if you're dropping off on the afternoon of the third, there may not be another pickup time that day and may not have been postmarked. That's one of the main, one of one of the two largest reasons why mail ballots in the past have not been counted as because the postmarked date is after election day. The other important thing in the major reason why ballots mailed out sometimes are not counted is for a signature issue, either the voter failed to sign the outside of the envelope when they returned it, or the signature they provided did not match, in our opinion, the signature we had on file for the voter. While that's important, we want voters to do that at the front end. I can assure them that there is a process for contacting them if we have an issue related to their signature. We are required to mail them and notice giving them until two days before we certify the election to correct that signature issue. The other thing that's new for this election that's being offered is where my ballot is Where's my ballot? Which is a tracking service offered by the Secretary of State. We signed up for that. So every vote, our accounting now can go to the Secretary State's website to that to that where's my ballot site? And sign up to receive notifications. They can get either an email notification, a text message notification, or a phone message at certain steps in the process. So we mailed all of our mail ballots out. I had signed up, so I got a text message Monday morning saying my bow had been male, that was on its way. Once I vote and return it to the registrar's office for processing, I'll get another notification that says that the register voters office has received my ballot. And at the point at the end, once hopefully my staff determines my ballot’s eligible to be counted, then I will get a notification that says that my ball is been counted and if there's an issue with it that the ballot gets challenged for any reason in addition to the letter that we sent out to voters, they will also get that notification from where's my ballot saying, Hey, your ballot been challenged, please contact your registrar voters office to rectify the situation.
Alfredo Barcenas: No, yeah, so I really, I think it's really informative to hear about the mechanisms that are put in place to insure people feel comfortable to mail in their ballot. So, and we hear a lot of concerns from the public wondering if their ballot is going to be counted. So can we, should the community be concerned on the safety or the aspect that it's gonna get counted in, that it's okay to mail in their ballot?
Bob Page: I will tell you that while the Postal Service has advised counties and voters to make a plan and vote and drop their ballots back in the mail early like a week early. I will share with you that when we mailed out the ballots to everybody I made a presentation to the town council and Yucca Valley. And the mayor of one of the council members told me during the meeting they had already received their balance. So while the postal services told people it could take up to a week for male to go from point A to point B. The experience I've had is that it's much quicker. So, you know, they were working very well with the Postal Service and with the Secretary of State's office to ensure this goes smoothly. But I've not seen any problems yet in terms of the speed of the mail, but obviously, if somebody is concerned about that, we have other options for them. If they feel comfortable with the postal service, I would advise not to wait until November 3rd to actually put it in the mail.
Maddie Bunting: Yes, thank you. And I want to recommend to all of our listeners and those watching to check, research your county as well as your state if you aren't in California and find out what the government is doing for you. And this does vary depending on where you are. I have a quick question. This is, thank you for thoroughly explaining what the county and the state is doing to help voters calm some of those nerves. But there is, and has been for a long time now talk about voter intimidation and the various mechanisms that can take place. Can, are you worried about voter intimidation? Is that something that's on your radar?
Bob Page: Why will I say that because our operations are transparent and can be observed in polling places and our office, part of our training for our election workers is always on how to provide good public service. How to de-escalate potential situations if somebody is upset about something. So that's a key part of our training of our staff and our temporary election workers that we have. So specifically for polling places, I can share a couple of things. One is that well, first let me talk about the dropboxes and we've had questions about the security of the dropboxes just to quickly state the drop boxes that are being installed outside. They're made of 18 gauge steel. They weigh about 200 pounds, so they're not something somebody could just easily pick up and walk away with without special equipment. But even if somebody wanted to do that, they are anchored and bolted to the concrete pads that are set on and those concrete anchor bolts can only be accessed if you have the two separate keys to be able to unlock the retrieval door, to access them there inside the box themselves, they are not outside. And we're working with other public agencies and schools and others to locate those and working with them to ensure they put them in a place where they can keep an eye on them. If they find that somebody has put graffiti or defaced those boxes in any way that they report that to us immediately. So we're taking that very seriously in terms of security, the ballots, putting the drop boxes. At our polling places, as I said, we do provide de-escalation skills training to our staff and provide them with training to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. In terms of some of the reports that there may be intimidation. We have been meeting now for a couple of months with the sheriff's department and discussing different things we can do that are kind of behind the scenes as not, as, not as apparent to voters because we can't, we can't put a security guard or a sheriff's deputy out in front of every polling place within the gun, that, that would be perceived as intimidation of voters and the wrong end of the spectrum of potential voter suppression. So we have to find a balance there about how we ensure that our polling places in our voting locations run smoothly, safely and securely. So, but what we've done is we've made sure that all the city police departments in our county, as well as the Sheriff's Department, have been given the locations of all of our polling places, all of our drop boxes, all of our early vote sites. They provided me with all of their non emergency numbers to have conversations with them while voting is going on so we can address issues, but we're also, in addition to having training of de-escalation skills to our poll workers. We also have trained them obviously, if there is a situation that developed at your polling place that creates an immediate danger, we do ask that you call 9-1-1 and by giving the law enforcement officials in our county our locations and having that working relationship with them for now a couple of months, that should result in a much quicker response time to deal with potential issues. So we are taking this seriously, but it is balanced to how we can appropriately provide a secure space for voting without having any kind of show of force that would intimidate others.
Maddie Bunting: That is great work. Yes, I think every voter and possible voter will be very glad to hear, you know, those measures are being taken. So we've discussed the various ways to boat, such as in-person at polling places through a dropbox or through the postal service. And as people are now receiving their ballots in the mail, as you just mentioned, is there one method you would recommend over another?
Bob Page: Actually, no. And the reason for that is that part of our important part of our voter education messaging in the first part of that is, this is the voter's ballot. You know, our message is, your ballot, vote safe vote early. So we just want to make sure that the voters are educated about all their different choices. Whether that's putting it in the mail, dropping into the dropbox, coming to one of our early vote sites, or our office, or a polling place to vote. You know, it's the voter's choice once we explain to them all the safety measures were taken, we've taken what we put into place. But it's ultimately their choice about what they feel is the best way to vote. So I don't wish to steer people towards one direction. I just want them to know that every option we're providing them, we believe is safe and secure. And really that choice lies with them in terms of what they feel most comfortable doing in this election we're charting they're voted ballot.
Alfredo Barcenas: And just to follow up on Maddie’s question, there's news of the USPS might be overwhelmed the next coming weeks with all of these ballots coming in. So would you recommend that people cast their ballots earlier?
Bob Page: We are encouraging people to vote early. As I said, our message is, you're ballot vote safe vote early. And the reason is that not necessarily because it's this election, but it's because historically the presidential general election has the highest voter turnout. And so there's a number of opportunities for voters to not have to wait until November 3rd to vote. And we'd like them as many of our voters as possible to take advantage of that. And so, you know, whichever method they choose, if they want to vote in person, you know, they can come to our office now if they want to vote, we had about, I want to say about 250 voters came in on Monday. I think another 100 or so will come in yesterday. Obviously we've got 1.1 million voters, so that's just a small number. But the more people that vote earlier, the earlier we can get processing those ballots and ensure that we can have everything done by December 1st, which is our legal deadline. So we do encourage people to vote early and if they want to vote in person and not not drive to San Bernardino, you know, as I said, we'll have those five additional locations that are opened the week of October 26th. And then we'll have 210 polling places that are open for four days. So if they want to vote on, on Halloween, on October 31st, the polling places will be open from ten to six. They'll be open those same hours on Sunday the first and Monday the second. And then on November third, all of our polling places will be open from 7:00 AM until 8:00 PM. So if people want to make it to the late day, they can, but they should be prepared for waiting in a line. Given the large turnout, we typically do have lines that are polling places and because of the health and safety measures we're taking at the polling places, it should take a little longer to vote because we've got to clean surfaces between voters and do those kinds of things. And have, will have less polling, you know, potentially in polling places we've used in past elections when we couldn't get a larger polling place just because of the availability of community spaces in that neighborhood. There will be less check-in stations and less voter booths so that we can put those six feet apart. So we are encouraging people to vote early because that is a potential if, if too many people wait until November 3rd, we will have lines in there. There'll be a long way to go. And we'd like to avoid that if we could.
Maddie Bunting: Yes, of course. Well, I hope everyone, however they choose to submit their ballot, makes a plan and whether that’s voting by mail, early, in-person. I think just doing your research, studying the propositions and the candidates and making a plan to physically turn in that ballot, however, you do so is of the utmost importance. Mr. Page. Thank you so much. You have shared such important and pertinent information and I know our listeners will appreciate it and I hope again that districts encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote. So thank you so much for joining us. We greatly appreciate it.
Bob Page: Well, thank you for this opportunity to provide some information to your listeners about this election.
Outro: Policy Chats is a production of the UC Riverside, School of Public Policy. Our theme music was composed by C Codaine. I’m Maddie Bunting, ‘til next time.