Election 2020: What Did We Learn? Check Out New OVI Ballot Duplication Recommendations

In the spring of 2020, the members of the Sustainability of UOCAVA Balloting Solutions Subgroup(SUBSS) of The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) developed  recommendations for duplication of damaged and/or machine unreadable ballots. Our Working Group of state and local election officials wanted to aid other election officials and inform the greater election stakeholder community as contingency planning for the 2020 election began to unfold. These enhanced, pandemic-era recommendations built upon the previous work of the OVI on ballot duplication.

After assessing the 2020 election cycle in relation to lessons learned regarding ballot duplication and other post-election processes, including how they were discussed in both social and mainstream media, the OVI SUBSS Working Group members developed the following recommendations:

Ballot Duplication Technology

  • In addition to continuously evaluating emerging ballot duplication-specific technology solutions, election officials could also explore the possibility of using dedicated ballot marking devices to aid in the ballot duplication process. In an effort to move away from completely manual ballot transcription processes, many jurisdictions reportedly did this successfully in 2020.

Ballot Duplication Observation

  • When broadcasting ballot duplication processes, captions, narrations and other explanatory information should be given by election officials to provide context for observers given their curtailed ability to ask clarifying questions in person. This will also help provide context to the media and aid in fighting attempts at video manipulation and disinformation.
  • Election officials should keep any recordings of the duplication or other post-election processes so that they have the original footage should a manipulated version show up online.
  • Officials should consider keeping a record of remote observers, either by having them agree to observer guidelines and collecting their information ahead of time, or by tracking observers’ internet service providers so they can be tracked down if they violate observer principals.
  • Educational materials on post-election processing, including ballot duplication, shared by election officials should include a spot for signatures of both in-person and remote observers indicating they have read and understand the materials and are trained or certified to begin observation.
  • Election officials should consider observer area signage and room layout with clear physical distancing markers. Additionally, cameras should be considered for both on-site and remote observers who must keep physical distance but find it hard to see the process when distant.
  • Election officials should provide staff availability for observer questions both on-site and via remote access as well as to implement a process for advance sign-ups, limiting the number of observers at one time.
  • Chain of custody and security processes and procedures for ballot duplication and post-election processing should be reviewed by election officials and strengthened as appropriate to address evolving risk mitigation needs.

If you have any ballot duplication questions or suggestions for additional recommendations based on your experience, please reach out to us at elections@csg.org. We’d love to hear from you!

Election 2020 in Review: Ballot Duplication Technology Implementation in Orange County, California

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) has been examining the November 3, 2020 election in relation to all things “ballot duplication” and sharing insights in our latest article series. We recently highlighted ballot duplication in the news followed by a look at poll watchers, observers and the ballot duplication process. In this third series installment, we’re providing an overview on the rollout of new ballot duplication technology by the office of the Orange County, California Registrar of Voters (ROV)  following their research efforts to advance this process in one of the largest U.S. voting jurisdictions.

Background

For several years, Orange County ROV Neal Kelley and his team researched technology-aided solutions to help streamline the process for duplicating ballots marked outside of a polling place that may have become damaged or are otherwise unable to be read by vote tabulation scanners. Potential tools to partially automate the transcription of these ballots – including military and overseas ballots – were part of the overall election modernization effort. More importantly, continuous innovation better serves the jurisdiction’s voters while meeting the new requirements of the California’s Voter’s Choice Act of 2016. Orange County was mandated to reach compliance to this act in 2020.

In 2016, the ROV’s office issued a request for information (RFI) on several segments of election technology including voting systems, electronic pollbooks, and ballot duplication solutions. Following an in-depth review of the RFI responses received, the ROV’s office hosted an election technology fair with over 20 providers demonstrating their offerings in 2017. This allowed the ROV’s office to learn more about the latest election technologies available in the marketplace.

Around this time, the OVI Working Group, in which Orange County ROV Kelley participates, began its study of tools and processes to aid in ballot duplication. The OVI released its initial set of ballot duplication recommendations in January 2016, and an in-depth report on the group’s ballot duplication research in December 2016.

In early 2019, armed with robust election technology research outputs from their exhaustive work, the Orange County ROV’s office issued a request for proposals (RFP) for election technology solutions. They selected each type of desired technology and entered into contracts with providers to implement these solutions during the 2020 election cycle. Ballot duplication technology was just one of the many solutions procured by the ROV’s office, with Novus optical character recognition ballot duplication software from Runbeck Election Systems selected.

The ROV’s office gradually phased in the Novus software with its first small-scale test usage during the March 2020 primary with its legacy voting system. Use of the Novus software expanded significantly during the November 3, 2020 general election in conjunction with the implementation of their new voting system plus many additional election technologies and processes.

The 2020 general election was an extremely challenging time to implement any new technology, but the Orange County ROV’s office experienced great success. Over 1.54 million ballots were cast by Orange County during the November 3, 2020 election representing an 87.3% turnout, the second highest voter turnout percentage ever experienced in the county. To add even more service to voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Secretary of State’s office mandated that all registered voters automatically received a vote by mail (VBM) ballot from their county election office. Both in Orange County and throughout the state, this resulted in a significant increase in VBM ballots. Despite the large number of VBM ballots, COVID-19’s significant impact on election administration, and the introduction of a new voting system and additional election technology, Orange County ROV Kelley said 2020 was one of the smoothest elections ever in Orange County’s history.

How did the ballot duplication technology work?

With oversight from Orange County ROV office’s operators, the Novus software read each ballot needing duplication, then extracted a “clean” ballot in the same style from the ROV’s election definition software. The Novus software then replicated the original ballot, adding duplicate identification numbers on both the original and the replicated ballot in order to match the newly replicated ballot to the original. The ROV team operators then manually verified all ballot selections that the Novus software suggested. The duplicate ballots were then printed, matched, and checked for quality control.

How did the ballot duplication technology fare?

The Orange County ROV’s office conducted time and process studies to compare the new ballot duplication technology solution with traditional manual remaking of ballots. While not dramatically increasing through-put and time savings, time and staff-power was still saved, plus the addition of the ballot duplication technology resulted in a smoother, more efficient, and easier to track / easier to audit process. Improvement in transparency and chain of custody alone makes this solution critical to the Orange County ROV’s post-election processing.

To learn more about ballot duplication technology, please see our 2020 and 2021 article series and be on the lookout for our new OVI ballot duplication recommendations for election officials.

Election 2020 in Review: Ballot Duplication in the News

Definition of ballot duplication

With the November 3, 2020 election in the nation’s rearview mirror, it is time to examine some of the challenges that affected military and overseas ballots the Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) discussed in the lead up to the presidential election.

One such topic is ballot duplication. In the coming weeks, the OVI will examine:

  • noteworthy instances of ballot duplication that occurred last fall;
  • implementation of new automated ballot duplication systems and how they fared;
  • in-person and remote observation of ballot duplication and post-election processes during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions; and
  • ideas for improvement to the ballot duplication process going forward.

Last summer, the OVI issued a series of articles regarding ballot duplication and providing timely recommendations for election officials to consider in 2020. It was anticipated that the pandemic would result in an increase in the use of absentee, by mail and other ballots cast outside of polling places. This, in turn, would necessitate an increase in duplication.

In fact, the topic of ballot duplication was discussed frequently by election officials and in the media as voting procedures were a focus of post-election analysis.

Election officials across the country, including those in Montgomery County, Maryland, Marin County, California, and San Joaquin County, California, proactively shared information  with their communities and the media on their processes for duplicating damaged or otherwise machine-unreadable ballots prior to November 3, 2020. The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) even highlighted the ballot duplication process preemptively – and cited the OVI’s article series – in its highly-referenced “Rumor Control” website explaining that, “In some circumstances, elections officials are permitted to “duplicate” or otherwise further mark cast ballots to ensure they can be properly counted.

Despite the diligent work by election officials and others to explain the nature and purpose of ballot duplication, the topic was still a subject of considerable misinformation and disinformation [1] post-election. For example, officials in Delaware County, Pennsylvania were forced to debunk manipulated video of their ballot duplication process and City of Detroit election officials testified about the process to their state senate.

Perhaps most notably, Maricopa County, Arizona authorities worked to explain and combat ballot duplication misinformation and disinformation that quickly spread on social media. This was focused on proper vs. improper methods for marking paper ballots and concerns about whether these ballots would be counted. This became known as “Sharpiegate.” It was featured in CISA’s Rumor Control site, again referencing the OVI series on ballot duplication.

Additionally, there were stories about jurisdictions utilizing the ballot duplication process for ballots affected by the following notable circumstances:

  • Ballots with Printing Errors – In Tarrant County, Texas, election workers had to duplicate one-third of the jurisdiction’s absentee ballots due to a printing error that rendered bar codes illegible on approximately 20,000 ballots. Ballots in Outagamie County, Wisconsin contained a misprint visible in a black square — known as a timing mark — near the edge of the ballots. The misprint necessitated the duplication of 13,500 ballots so ballot machines could read them accurately.
  • Burned and Water Damaged Ballots – 2020 saw ballot drop boxes set on fire in Boston and Los Angeles. In Boston, there were 122 ballots inside the drop box when it was set on fire, only 87 of which were legible and able to be counted, though it is likely some fire-damaged ballots required duplication to go through ballot scanners. In Los Angeles, another ballot drop box fire resulted in over 200 damaged ballots left in a seared, soggy pile. Election officials had to sift through these to see what could be saved, again, likely using ballot duplication procedures. In both instances, voters whose ballots were not able to be saved received replacement ballots.
  • Braille and Large Print Ballots – Election jurisdictions offer a variety of assistance and services to aid voters with accessibility challenges. In some jurisdictions, like counties throughout Arizona, Braille and large print ballots are offered to voters. Prior to the November 3 election, Maricopa County election officials received requests for 26 Braille ballots and 555 large print ballots, all of which needed to be duplicated upon return before they could be counted. While duplication of Braille and large print ballots was not new in 2020, extensive discussion of it was.

The next article in this series will cover how ballot duplication and other post-election processes were viewed by both in-person and remote election observers while dealing with physical distancing, building capacity restrictions, and other COVID-19 restrictions.


[1] Misinformation is false information that one spreads because they believe it to be true. Disinformation is false information that one spreads even though they know it to be false. The difference between the two is intent.

Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) About Ballot Duplication

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A presidential election draws significantly more voters than a midterm or local election, resulting in more ballots to count. With expanded for vote-by-mail and no-excuse absentee voting, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant increase in the number of ballots marked outside of the tightly controlled environment of a physical polling place.

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Continued Advancement in Ballot Duplication Technology Solutions: Pilots in the Field

Types of ballot duplication technology described in text

In this post, we’ll provide a general overview of the ballot duplication technology landscape and its innovation since OVI began to research this topic in 2016. We’ll then briefly highlight a local jurisdiction’s first use of ballot duplication technology in 2018 and how this advancement has proven helpful in processing their damaged or otherwise machine-unreadable ballots prior to counting.

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Ballot Duplication Technology: What Is It and How Does It Work?

How Ballot Duplication Technology Works

Our first post in this series on ballot duplication served as an explainer to demystify this term, which refers to the process used to transcribe a damaged or unreadable ballot so that it can be counted.

In our second blog post, we shared the Overseas Voting Initiative’s (OVI) latest recommendations for ballot duplication in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this post, we will define ballot duplication technology solutions and give a general overview of how these solutions work.

Continue reading “Ballot Duplication Technology: What Is It and How Does It Work?”

Ballot Duplication: New Recommendations for Contingency Planning in the time of COVID-19 and Beyond

Ballot Duplication Recommendations: Recommendations are in text

With an eye toward contingency planning for Nov. 3, 2020 and beyond, the Sustainability of UOCAVA Balloting Solutions Subgroup of The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) developed new recommendations for duplication of damaged and/or machine unreadable ballots.

Continue reading “Ballot Duplication: New Recommendations for Contingency Planning in the time of COVID-19 and Beyond”

Ballot Duplication: What it is, what it is not and why we are talking about it in 2020

Definition of ballot duplication

Ballot duplication is a term well known to and commonly used by election officials throughout the U.S. This long-existing term — also known as ballot replication, ballot remaking and, less commonly but perhaps most accurately, ballot transcription — may sound a bit mysterious or perhaps downright nefarious to those not involved in the day-to-day intricacies of state and local election administration.

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The Council of State Governments Issues New Report on Technology Solutions for Military and Overseas Voting

Overseas Voting Initiative, a collaboration by CSG and the Federal Voting Assistance Program, examines sustainability of balloting solutions for military and overseas voting

LEXINGTON, Ky.—The Council of State Governments announced today the issuance of a report by its Overseas Voting Initiative, or OVI, titled, “Examining the Sustainability of Balloting Solutions for Military & Overseas Voting.” The report is part of its current multi-year collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FVAP.

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