001. Managing Returned Ballots
Welcome to Fairfax County Office of Elections, Central Absentee Precinct online training course for Managing Returned Ballots. This course is intended to provide you with the basic knowledge and tools to enable you to successfully accomplish our mission to accurately record receipt of absentee ballots and enter ballot data into Virginia’s statewide database, VERIS.
You’ll become familiar with process terminology, the different types of returned mailers, their appearance and contents, review the path of a returned mailer after it’s delivered by the US Postal Service and final entry of absentee ballot data.
Once a returned mailer is received by this office, it is our job to accurately record receipt of all absentee ballots in the statewide voter database, known as the Virginia Election and Registration Information System or (VERIS). Our goal in this mission is to NOT make any mistakes. It is critical that every person who has voted by mail has their vote counted! In almost every job, there is a supervisor who wants the job to be completed as quickly as possible; this is NOT one of those jobs. In this case, accuracy is paramount to success; speed is our enemy. It is critical that each person establish a deliberate review process that emphasizes accuracy over swiftness. Again, our work to accomplish this mission IS NOT A RACE.
The Virginia Election and Registration System or VERIS is a database that contains highly sensitive information about all voters throughout the state of Virginia. As such, it is crucial that this information be protected and not shared with others who do not have a need to know. The data is only to be used in the accomplishment of your job. It is YOUR responsibility to protect the information from prying ears or eyes. Remember, the information you see when you are working in VERIS is no one else’s business but yours.
004. Life of a ballot-beginning
If a voter wishes to vote absentee, their first step is to submit an absentee ballot application to the Fairfax County Office of Elections. The request MUST be mailed, emailed, or submitted online through the Virginia Department of Elections online portal (an absentee ballot cannot be requested via telephone).
Once the voter’s request is approved, an absentee ballot is sent to the voter within three business days.
Please note: By law, the initial mail-out of absentee ballots is required to be completed 45 days prior to an election. For the 2020 Presidential election, the initial mail-out date is 18 September. After that date, the above three business day rule to receive an absentee ballot after an application is approved applies.
005. Life of ballot – our job
Our job in the life of ballot is focused on two tasks; number 1 to record receipt of the returned mailer, and number 2, record if that ballot contained in the returned mailer is marked (voted), unmarked (unused), or undeliverable.
007. But, first
Before we can get down to the nitty gritty of actually recording receipt of returned mailers and entering their receipt into VERIS, we need to be familiar with the different types of returned mailer envelopes that will come across your desk.
For voters in Fairfax County, there are three broad categories of mailers: first is domestic, second is overseas, and third is e-mail.
The domestic returned mailer is used by a Fairfax County registered voter who does not wish to or is unable to vote in person.
An overseas returned mailer, also known as UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act) mailer, is used by those Fairfax County registered voters who are active duty military or civilians living overseas. Uniformed members can be stationed either overseas (as the name implies) or located at a stateside military base such as Ft. Belvoir.
The domestic and overseas returned mailers are primarily received by this office via USPS. However, they can also be returned by other mail/package delivery systems such as FEDEX, and UPS. We can also receive mailers “by hand” via an absentee ballot “drop box” located outside the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax or by the voter walking in to the building, going room 323, Fairfax County Office of Elections, and handing their returned mailer containing their marked ballot to the receptionist or by dropping it into a smaller ballot drop box located in room 323.
Finally, there is the email returned mailer. It’s used by overseas and stateside active duty military members only. The registered voter requests their absentee ballot online. Once the request is approved, that person is e-mailed a link allowing them to print a ballot, voting materials and instructions, as well as envelope templates to enable the voter to mail their ballot back to this office for eventual entry into VERIS.
Examples of the three mailer types follow.
008. Domestic Ballot Mailer
The above is an example of the most common type of outer mailer submission: the Domestic Ballot Mailer.
The domestic ballot mailer is supplied by the Office of Elections and contains a preprinted return address label.
Please note the information on the preprinted return address label. It includes a
Bar code specific to that voter
The voter’s ID number
The current election
Voter’s Congressional District and Precinct
Indication whether extra documentation is required.
009. CD Color Codes
In this image, please note the different colored stripes printed above the County of Fairfax, Office of Elections address on the front of the outer mailer. These are circled in red.
The color of this stripe indicates the Congressional District (CD) in which the voter resides. For November 2020, there will also be a different color stripe for the Town of Herndon (orange). The outer mailer for Herndon is not shown on this slide.
These different colored stripes serve as a valuable sorting tool to ensure that ballots from the same CDs are kept together during the processing operations.
010. UOCAVA example
While the UOCAVA envelope is almost identical to the domestic return mailers, it is distinguished from the others by the acronym “UOCAVA” being printed in a white block along the top of the turquoise band.
011. email returned mailer
The last returned mailer example is the email returned mailer. Military and overseas citizens can request a ballot be emailed to them, but they must print the ballot and B envelope; their completed ballot must be returned within the printed B envelope. The voter can mail their ballot back using either the Fairfax County envelope template received via email link or the ballot can be received back in a voter supplied envelope.
012. What's inside
Now that we’ve talked about what the outside looks like, let’s get into the deep dark recesses of what’s inside a returned mailer.
Each returned mailer, be it domestic, overseas, or email will contain either a sealed “B” envelope or the original “A” envelope.
A sealed “B” envelope will contain a marked ballot, which means the voter made their choices. If the voter chose not to vote absentee, they return the original “A” envelope they received unopened and not voted.
Examples of each of these follows.
013. Inside domestic mailer
After the voter marks their ballot, they mail back to us their return mailer which contains a sealed “B” envelope. That “B” envelope contains their voted ballot. The back of the “B” envelope asks the voter to complete information that will verify three critical pieces of information: their identity, that they are a registered voter in Fairfax County and that they are authorized to vote absentee in the 2020 Presidential election.
014. Inside UOCAVA mailer
After the overseas voter marks their ballot (voted), their “B” envelope will also be in the returned mailer. However the information a voter is asked to complete on the back of an overseas “B” envelope is a bit different from the domestic “B”. You’ll notice an address is NOT needed; only name and signature(s).
As with domestic returned mailers, the information requested on the back of the “B” helps us verify their identity, that they are a registered voter in Fairfax County and that they are authorized to vote absentee in the 2020 Presidential election.
015. Unmarked ballot
After applying for and receiving an absentee ballot at their home, the voter can still change their mind, not vote absentee but vote in person at a polling station or satellite voting office.
In that case, the voter will return the unopened “A” envelope to this office. Their unmarked, not voted, ballot will still be inside the sealed “A” envelope.
You may also receive unmarked ballots in the original Office of Elections mailer as undeliverable mail by the USPS.
016. Crunch time
Phew. Now that we’ve gone through envelope basics, it’s time to get into the meatier parts of our job. Here we go!
017. Mail's in
The mail is in. We now begin the meat and potatoes part of our job; sorting and counting the returned mailers, “B” envelope name verification, and voter database entry.
Two teams are tasked to accomplish this; one team to sort and count the returned mailers and a second team to work on “B” envelope verification as well as voter database entry.
Please note that assignments to either team will change periodically, as team workload is dependent on the amount of mail received each day.
Step 1 – sorting. Our first task is to sort the returned mailers by category or type. As noted on the slide, the categories we’re concerned with are Congressional Districts and Herndon, overseas or UOCAVA, undeliverable returned mailers, and email.
But, before we get in to the details of sorting, we first need to review and understand some basics.
019. Before you can sort
It’s time to sort. However we need to first be familiar with how we get from point A, delivery to this office of the returned mailers from USPS, FEDEX, UPS, etc.; to point B, where the mailers are now in an organized group of mail trays, ready for us to quickly and efficiently complete our mission to accurately record receipt of the absentee ballots and the data entry into Virginia’s statewide voter database, VERIS.
020. USPS delivered
We’ve got mail, so let the fun begin. The bulk of our returned mailers are delivered by the US Postal Service (USPS) around mid-morning in gray trays.
Mail will be mixed together, so the first task is to separate the mailers by CD. Most mailers will have a colored stripe extending to the right of the large turquoise band. Remember, CD8 stripe is yellow; CD10 stripe is green; CD11 stripe is purple, and Herndon stripe is orange. UOCAVAs have the CD colored stripes with the extra white block marked “UOCAVA”. Emails will typically come in a user-provided envelope, however, so you will need to check those carefully. After you fill a CD tray, do a quick scan to verify that the tray contains only one CD.
Within each CD, separate the mailers by domestic, UOCAVA and emails.
As you’re going through the tray, pull any mailers that were not able to be delivered to the voter by the post office. Those returned mailers are known as “undeliverables”. These envelopes are larger in size than the other mailers so they’re easy to spot in the tray. Pull all undeliverables and place them in the black tray for further processing by another team.
021. date, count, open
You’ve now completed a quick scan of all the envelopes in each tray so only one CD or Herndon is contained in one or more of the USPS trays. Now it’s time to date, count by CD, and open each returned mailer received in today’s mail. All three actions are done automatically by machine, the Omation IM-410.
Beginning with CD8, place the returned mailers in the machine’s feeder. The machine will automatically, stamp the date, count, and open each envelope. Take the stack of envelopes that have been through the machine, and place those mailers in red trays. Each red tray will be labeled with a hang tag identifying each CD and Herndon.
Once all mailers from the same CD have been run thru the machine, read the number of envelopes counted by the machine and record that number count on the “returned ballot count sheet”. IMPORTANT: before you begin processing the returned mailers for the next Congressional District, check the surrounding area to make sure all returned mailers from the previous CD have been run through the machine AND that you have “zeroed” the number count on the Omation IM-410 touch pad.
022. Sorting complete
Sorting and counting of the returned mailers is complete! All envelopes have been processed thru the Omation IM-410 which means they each have a date stamped on the front of the envelope, have been opened, counted, and that count recorded on the “returned ballot count sheet”. It also means that each returned mailer has been transferred from the USPS gray mail trays in which they were delivered, to our red mail trays accurately organized by Congressional District and Herndon.
That said, we are now ready to begin step two of our process; voter/ “B” envelope verification.
023. Voter-B envelope
This step is among THE most important of our tasks. It is at this point where we verify that the person who returned the absentee ballot contained in the sealed “B” envelope is the person who was authorized to receive and vote absentee for this election cycle.
This step CANNOT be rushed. Speed is our enemy here. A few extra seconds taken to verify the accuracy of the voter’s information will go a long way in avoiding future processing headaches.
024. Solving the mystery
Our focus has now shifted to the voter’s name. We are working to ensure the voter name that is on the sealed “B” envelope matches the name on the returned mailer address label. At this point, that is our only task for each envelope.
025. Names match domestic
Picture it, instead of being outside on a lovely sunny day, you’re sitting inside at your work table with a red tray full of returned mailers needing your attention. Take one of the mailers out of the red tray. Pull out the “B” envelope and if needed, turn it around so the voter information on the “B” envelope is facing the front of the returned mailer. You should be able to see the voter’s name on both the return address label and “B” envelope at the same time. The envelope in your hand should look like the picture on the slide.
Compare the names on both envelopes. In this case, they match, so reinsert the “B” envelope back into the mailer and return the mailer to your red tray. You need to keep separate the mailers where the names have been verified from the mailers that are yet to be done. A common method is to take a piece of paper or a completed returned mailer, turn it on its end, and place all other completed mailers behind it. There are other ways to make this separation, but the method doesn’t matter. What is important is to keep the completed and not completed mailers apart so you don’t double your work by forgetting where you started and stopped.
When you have finished your red tray, place that tray in a rack with the other completed red trays. The trays will be grouped in the rack by CDs and Herndon. Remember all the returned mailers from one CD have to be reviewed before everyone moves on to the next CD group for processing.
026. UOCAVA name match
The same process used to match names for the domestic returned mailers also applies to verifying names on the overseas or UOCAVA returned mailers.
027. But wait
There’s a bit more to know about name verification requirements. As noted on the slide, the names don’t have to match exactly but you HAVE to be reasonably sure the name on the “B” envelope and return mailer address label are the voter who was sent an absentee ballot and is authorized to vote in this election cycle. Allowed variations are detailed on the slide.
028. Names don't match
If the names don’t match, reinsert the “B” envelope back into the return mailer and place it in the black box by your work space. No further action by you is needed.
Some of the reasons names may not match are; husband placed his “B” envelope into the wife’s return mailer or vice versa, ballot was received from a voter who is not authorized to vote absentee, roommates or voters living together in a multi-generational home put their “B” envelope in the wrong return mailers, and so on.
029. Other black box candidates
In addition to returned mailers where the voter’s name doesn’t match the “B” envelope, there are other returned mailers that must go in the black box for further processing by another team. For example, remove returned mailers with an “ID required” notation on the return address label, mailers returned with an “A” envelope inside and all “undeliverable” mailers.
As you work, you will come across other “odd duck” returned mailers that may not fit the above circumstances but you have a question about - call your supervisor over for guidance.
030. Mailer review complete
Congratulations, review complete. Your red tray should have only those returned mailers where the voter name on the “B” envelope matches the name on the mailer’s return address label. You’re now ready for the final step of data entry into VERIS.
032. VERIS homepage
To get started, take a red tray of name verified returned mailers from the rack. Log in to VERIS. Once logged in, take your mouse, hover it above the “Absentee” label - a drop down menu should appear. Move your mouse down the list so it highlights “All Batch Receipt – without IDs” and click.
Once you’ve clicked on “All batch receipt-without IDs”, the above screen should appear. The window on the left should show the current date and the “received by method” will always show “mail”.
If the date is not correct, use the calendar icon to the right of that line and click on the appropriate date. When the information on both lines is correct, you’re ready to begin batch scanning the returned mailers.
034. Repeat scan
When batch scanning, you need to focus on certain sights and sounds that should happen during the scanning process. Two critical points are listening closely for a beep each time you scan and making sure the name on the mailer appears on the screen. As you scan each returned mailer, you’ll see the ballot status show as “marked” and status reason show as “ballot returned”. This also is an indication of a successful scan into the VERIS database.
Once scanned, place each returned mailer you’re working on in a stack next to you. By doing this, you keep separate mailers that have been scanned from those that are waiting to be entered in to the VERIS database.
After ten mailers are successfully entered, CLICK SAVE. This is a critical step.
Remember to scan NO MORE THAN 10 MAILERS per batch. The reason for that is explained in the next slide.
035. No more than 10
During scanning, VERIS periodically will show the “First Tuesday” server error. When it appears, the mailers you just scanned have NOT been saved in the database. This means you have to rescan the mailers you just scanned. The “no more than 10 rule” was set to minimize the time spent on rescanning.
You’ll learn while you’re working how to clear this error.
036. Successful scan
Now that you’ve successfully scanned and saved your batch of 10, a large red check mark is placed on each returned mailer. This tells anyone who sees the mark that the returned mailer has been scanned in to VERIS.
037. Be aware
As the slide notes, the statewide database can be unpredictable. Patience and flexibility will go a long way in helping you accomplish your job.
038. Review mailers
It’s time to review some of the most important information about returned mailers. Take a moment to look at the questions and try to answer them.
039. Review batch scanning
Please take a moment to read the questions about batch scanning and try to answer them.
040. Answers returned mailers
Here are the answers for questions about returned mailers. How many did you answer correctly?
041. Answers batch scanning
Here are the answers for batch scanning the returned mailers. How many did you answer correctly?
If you did not get very many of the answers right, you may wish to go back and review the slides again.
If you got them all right, great job!
042. before we go
Hopefully this course has given you a general understanding of what’s involved in processing absentee ballots.
You will come to the Office Elections in the Fairfax County Government Center to get your credentials. All of the work will also be performed there.
Workloads will be highly dependent on the amount of mail received each day, so your ability to adapt to a frequently changing work environment as well as patience will greatly help you be successful.