Election Security FAQs

You’ve just read through our Election Security information and referred to our Glossary of Election Terms and Acronyms that are commonly used at the Registrar of Voters, and you are still wondering what you can do as an individual to be more aware and help protect our elections? 

There are a few more suggestions we offer you as a Santa Clara County voter to be more involved with the Registrar of Voters and gain a better understanding of how things operate. To get you started and before attending a meeting, we’ve developed a list of Frequently Asked Questions and answers to increase your awareness about and involvement in democracy and how to recognize and, if necessary, report a possible situation.
 

What else can I do to help?

In addition to the suggested Five Things You Can Do to be a Mindful Voter and protect your vote, below are 5 ways you can increase your involvement with the Registrar of Voters.

  1. Vote!  
    The most important way to be involved in an election is to VERIFY your registration information and be sure to VOTE! 
    Click HERE to read our Voter Registration FAQs.
    Click HERE to read our Vote by Mail FAQs.
  2. Stay Connected 
    Voters, along with election workers, candidates, campaigns, and the media are also the “eyes and ears” of the county elections officials, especially on Election Day when activity is at its peak. With over 200 voting locations and ballot drop boxes situated around the County, we appreciate hearing from the public if they believe they see a problem. 

    While we work with our community and media partners to assist in accurately sharing important voter information, well, sometimes they just get it wrong. If you believe you’ve heard something wrong, even if you think it is an innocent mistake, please let us know.
     
  3. Become an Election Officer
    Helping during an election by working as an Election Officer at one of our many voting locations or working with the staff at the Registrar of Voters is not only a great way to get involved in democracy and helping out. You’ll likely learn more than you ever knew about the voter registration and elections process, and if you are reading through our website information, you’re already on your way! 
    Visit our Get Involved page on our website to learn about the different positions you may be interested.    
     
  4. Attend a Voters Choice Act hearing or workshop
    The ROV holds multiple voter outreach hearings and workshops ahead of every election, during the preparation of the Election Administration Plan under the Voter’s Choice Act. Announcements are made on our website and social media outlets - follow us to stay involved! Visit our Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) information page to learn more about our upcoming hearings and workshops. 
     
  5.  Join an ROV committee or coalition
    The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters (ROV) has opportunities for members of the public to work cooperatively with the ROV and provide key feedback on election operations and plans and help share information about voter registration and elections in Santa Clara County. Announcements are made on our website and social media outlets - follow us to stay involved!
     
    Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC) The Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC) is a panel of community members who will provide input to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on how to better serve voters who primarily speak a language other than English. 
    Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) The Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) is a panel of community members who will provide input to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on how to better serve senior voters and those with disabilities. 
    Voter Education and Outreach Coalition (VEOC) The Voter Education and Outreach Coalition (VEOC) is a diverse collection of community members who work cooperatively with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters to provide input to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on how to better educate and inform voters in their communities about the services provided by the Registrar. 

FAQs about Receiving Election Information and Reporting Concerns

    No. The Registrar of Voters will NOT ask you to share any registration information by email, text message or direct message from any of our social media accounts. The Registrar of Voters ONLY communicates directly with voters by letter or telephone call.

    Voters should never share personal voter information with an untrusted source, click on a link provided to them via text message or email, and to never share their Social Security or Driver’s License number with anyone who is not trusted.

    Yes. The Registrar of Voters (ROV) maintains an active website and three social media accounts that provide key election information. Anyone can visit the ROV’s website and be redirected to the ROV’s official social media accounts. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under the name “SCCVote.” You can sign up to receive notifications when new information is shared so you are informed of election deadlines and events from a trusted source. 

    The ROV also has a mobile app under the same name so you can stay connected and informed! Look for SCCVote in the app store.

    Remember to practice caution. During election season, you may be overloaded with mixed information from social media, the news, emails you receive and even things you hear others discuss. It is important to know you are following a trusted and verified source of information. Many social media accounts are proven “verified” by display of a blue check mark.

    facebook-verified-checkmark

    During the weeks leading up to an election, candidate and ballot measure campaigns will ramp up activities to encourage people to vote. Whether you receive an email, phone call, postcard in the mail, or a knock at your door you should verify the information you receive. Here are just a few suggestions of how you can be cautious with the information you consider and share: 

    • Compare it to the information on the Registrar of Voters or the California Secretary of State’s websites or call your state or local elections official and ask if the information is legitimate. 
    • Find the source and verify it is legitimate. Ideally, a safe website will display a street address, email address, and telephone number or even a social media account if they have. While this doesn’t provide protection, it might indicate the site is more legitimate. 
    • Many social media accounts are verified by the display of a check mark next to the account name. For a candidate or campaign account to receive that level of authentication, the owner must have an active email in addition to other authentication factors to confirm legitimacy. 
    • Look for the Official Election Mail logo on your mail to distinguish it from other election mail. The United States Postal System created a special logo that can only be used by authorized election officials as a way of indicating the election mail is from a legitimate government source. Examples are voter registration and notification cards, Vote by Mail ballots, voter information guides and other election notices sent by an election official. Political mail from a candidate or campaign committee or political party is NOT considered election mail. 
    • Did you receive a link or are searching the Internet for election information and your results give you a website you are not sure is truthful? You can double-check the information by doing a separate search for the same facts or use websites like Snopes.com, fighting misinformation since 1994, or FactCheck.org, operated by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, to confirm the information you are receiving is factual. 
    • The “s” in “https” may not always indicate website security or legitimacy. With the growth of the internet and increase in phishing, fake websites can still use a free SSL certificate to tell you it is secure, even though it is not. These days, you’ll need to be your own best investigator to make sure the site is legitimate and secure.

    To view the County of Santa Clara’s policies on website links and privacy, simply scroll to the bottom of any page on our site and look under the second column titled, Terms of Use

    The Registrar of Voters offers an online self-verification system where voters can verify their registration status. You will be asked to provide your first and last name, driver’s license or state identification number, the last four digits of your social security number, and date of birth. 

    From the Registrar of Voters home page, just click on any of the links listed under our Popular Services to be redirected to our online self-serve portal.

    The system also lets you “Go Green” and opt out of receiving your County Voter Information Guide (CVIG) in the mail and review it along with a sample of your official ballot online, find an official Ballot Drop-off Location or Vote Center, track the return of your Vote by Mail or Provisional ballot, view election results, and more.

    Click HERE to be taken directly to our online self-serve system. You can also confirm your registration status by calling us toll free at (866) 430-VOTE [8683].

    You can track the status of your Vote by Mail ballot, your Conditional Voter’s ballot or your Provisional ballot online through the Registrar of Voters’ self-serve portal accessible from our Homepage under Popular Services. 

    You can also sign up for the Secretary of State’s notification services at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to get automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notifications about your ballot. 

    We are used to seeing signatures change over time. A variation in your signature does not necessarily cause it to not compare. If a staff member cannot confirm your signature on the Vote by Mail ballot return envelope compares to your signatures on file, your ballot will move through multiple levels of verification before it is deemed to not match. If your signature has changed drastically and does not compare to your signatures we have in our database, we will send you a “Signature Verification Form,” that, if you return, will be used to process your ballot.  

    Did you know.... For decades, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has provided voter registration services to people at the DMV who are obtaining a new driver’s license or state ID card. That means the signature you use at the DMV is likely to be the same signature that is on file with your county elections official.

    Visit our Vote by Mail Forms and FAQs page for answers to more questions about the process. 

    The Secretary of State shares the California Voter Bill of Rights in print and video, found online HERE. The legal text of the Bill is found in Sections 2300 and 2302 of the California Elections Code.

    The California Voter Bill of Rights is available at each of the County’s Vote Center locations and is printed in all languages the County provides election materials: English, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Nepali, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu and Vietnamese. 

    If you can’t find your Voter Bill of Rights at your Vote Center, please ask an Election Worker for help. 

    Protecting your voting experience and being free from intimidation is a very important part of democracy. California’s election law includes rules for this activity referred to as electioneering. Many voters are confused between what is permitted under “electioneering,” taking place prior to voting and exit polling” that takes place after exiting the voting location. 

    Electioneering is defined under Section 319.5 of the California Elections Code as, “the visible display or audible dissemination of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure within 100 feet of [a voting location]”, including where Vote by Mail voters are returning their ballot at a Ballot Drop-off Location. Electioneering includes wearing a shirt, sticker or pin, or distributing materials, posting signs or verbally cheering or indicating support of a candidate or measure. You may also read additional information on electioneering as found in Sections 18370-18371 of the Elections Code.

    Exit polling is not defined by California law, but is guided by rules issued from the Secretary of State. News media or other organizations surveying voters after they cast their vote is commonly referred to as exit polling and is permitted as close as 25 feet from the voting location.

    Either way, it is unlawful for any person to engage in intimidation, threats, violence, bribery, solicitation, or any other activity to get people who are not qualified to try to vote, or to discourage or prevent people from voting. Election workers are trained to observe and intervene where appropriate.

    Yes, you can…. while practicing caution. You can photograph yourself with your ballot, if you do NOT violate any other laws, disclose another person’s voted ballot or interrupt the voting process. So, voluntarily taking a picture and disclosing your own ballot is now OK.

    Practice caution. Voters taking a “ballot selfie,” should be aware that some of their voting materials display their name and address and should, therefore, be sure to hide personal information before taking the picture. Those voting in person at a Vote Center should be aware that others inside the Vote Center may NOT want to be in a picture or have their vote unintentionally disclosed. Therefore, be aware of your surroundings before taking the picture.

    You may contact the following agencies if you wish to make a report about voter registration or petition drives, or election activities. If your concern relates to a situation within Santa Clara County, please contact the County Registrar of Voters first

    County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters

    All concerns about voter registration drives, petition circulation, and elections conducted in the County of Santa Clara

    Call: (408) 299-VOTE [8683]
    or
    Toll Free: (866) 430-VOTE [8683] 

    Email: [email protected]

     
    California Secretary of State

    Concerns about state voter registration drives, state petitions, California’s approved voting technologies and statewide elections

    Visit Vote Sure for more information and then send an email to:  [email protected] 

     

    California Fair Political Practices Commission

    Concerns regarding political campaign activity, political advertisements, and financial disclosure for state and local campaigns

    Call: (916) 322-5660

    File: Electronic Complaint

    Email: [email protected] 

     

    Federal Election Commission

    Concerns regarding political campaign activity and financial disclosure for federal officials and candidates must be filed in writing. 

    How to File a Complaint with the FEC

    This is typically a local issue and is treated like any other minor property crime and can be reported to your local City Police Department or County Sheriff. Cities in Santa Clara County may have specific ordinances that prohibit campaign sign theft and vandalism. Check with your local City Clerk. 

    People may also contact the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, their City Clerk or City Manager, and neighboring County Elections Officials, like the Santa Cruz County Clerk, Monterey County Elections or the San Benito County Clerk who are also authentic and trusted partners. 

    To help people understand more about the elections process, the California Secretary of State released a book, “Voting Law Compliance Handbook: A Voter’s Guide to Safeguard California’s Election Process,” that contains a list of questions and answers about topics such as registering to vote and voting, petitions, campaign do’s and don’ts, and other helpful information.

    FAQs about What the County is Doing to Protect Elections

      Yes. The County of Santa Clara has joined the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or MS-ISAC, founded by the Center for Internet Security (CIS). The Center’s mission is to improve the overall cybersecurity of the nation through prevention, protection, response and recovery. To further expand efforts, MS-ISAC partners with other agencies and networks, such as the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Global Cyber Alliance, the Public Technology Institute, and organizations such as “Stop, Think, Connect,” that teach people how to increase their own online safety.  

      Outside of MS-ISAC, the Registrar of Voters has joined the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) and also partners with larger state and federal agencies such as Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Office of Emergency Services and the Secretary of State to receive and share information to improve election security. Locally, the County Board of Supervisors, the County Sheriff, City Clerks and City Managers, and local fire and police departments also work together to further protect our elections infrastructure. 

      Click HERE to watch a short video presentation by a member of MS-ISAC about the type of information distributed to elections officials by the Center and samples of best practices that elections officials use to increase security of our nations elections. 

      Yes. Since 2018, the County has taken steps to evaluate and improve its security posture. The County’s “Defense in Depth” approach includes physical, technological and administrative controls to protect the election management system. 

      Click HERE to read more about the County’s standards for securing systems and data.

      The Registrar of Voters has developed an Election Administration Plan describing an overview of how the County will conduct elections under the new Voter’s Choice Act model. Under the new model, Vote Centers must be open for voting up to 10-days before Election Day. New Election Worker procedures, detailed Chain of custody documentation, and newly designed security carts that will be used to transport and store voting equipment in the field are a few examples of how the Registrar of Voters will secure and protect voting equipment assets while in the field. Facilities are also secured and ROV only one who has access to room or area where voting center will be/equipment is located. If not possible, they provide a secure closet or other location where equipment can be stored 

      Click HERE for more information on the Registrar of Voters’ Election Administration Plan Preventative Measures (see Appendix N).

      Yes. The County of Santa Clara has an Office of Emergency Services that guides Departments on employee and public safety and awareness. Election Workers who provide services at the County’s Vote Centers are also trained for emergency preparedness and power outages during the voting period. 

      Click HERE for more information on the Registrar of Voters’ Election Administration Plan Contingencies (see Appendix O).

      FAQs about Security and Access to Data Maintained by the Registrar of Voters

        In recent years, the County of Santa Clara conducted a study of security measures for all its systems, including evaluating potential threats and vulnerabilities, locating security gaps, and reviewing how access is allowed. The study was based on the latest security and privacy controls issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

        After this project, the County upgraded firewalls and servers, improved system controls, and increased staff education and awareness on how to monitor and report unauthorized access and suspicious activity. Using Advanced Encryption Standards (AES) adopted by NIST, limiting access to data for both staff and approved applicants, requiring two-factor authentication and routine password changes, and conducting routine database backups to protect against and prevent data loss are a few of the important steps the County is taking. 

        Click HERE to learn more about security standards in place for data contained in an election management system (EMS)

        Yes, voter registration must be shared between the county and state election officials to maintain the most current data. Under federal law, each state must have a statewide voter registration database that maintains a complete list of eligible voters. California’s database, called VoteCal, is used by county elections officials to verify and update voter data and search for duplicate records. 

        Each county’s election management system (EMS) must be able to send and receive information from VoteCal. Under federal law, election officials must provide technological security that prevents unauthorized access to their election systems during use, at rest and when sharing data. Using the minimum Advanced Encryption Standards (AES) created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the standard of protection. 

        No, the Registrar of Voters (ROV) and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) do NOT directly share voter registration information. Data is provided by the DMV to the Secretary of State, who then sends data through VoteCal to the ROV. 

        Visit the California Secretary of State’s Elections Division website more information on VoteCal.

        Under California law, all voter registration information is confidential and cannot be made available to the general public.  

        California law does allow some individuals and groups to access voter records, if they meet certain criteria and if they declare they will only use the data for legal purposes. Applicants can be candidates running for elective office or their campaign, ballot measure committee campaigns, political party groups, members of the State Legislature and Congress, and the like.  The application must specify the uses of the voter information. Most importantly, your signature nor your state identification number (driver’s license or social security number) cannot be provided. It is illegal to send voter registration information outside of the United States.

        Voters who have a life-threatening situation may qualify under the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home Program to have their voter registration information made completely confidential and unavailable even to those who may qualify for access to other voter information.  

        Please read our Voter Privacy Statement for more information on access to confidential voter registration data.

        Under California Election Code Section 2184 and Section 2194, approved applicants can be any of the following:

        • Members of the State Legislature
        • Members of Congress 
        • Any candidate or member of their campaign who is to be voted for in the County of Santa Clara, including those running for a federal, state, state legislative, county, city, school or special district elective office within the boundaries of the County of Santa Clara
        • A campaign committee in support of or against a ballot measure that has qualified for placement on the ballot 
        • A campaign committee in support of or against any proposed ballot measure, only after a legal publication has been made about the proposed measure
        • Any person intending to use the information for election, scholarly, journalistic, political or governmental purposes, as defined by the Secretary of State. 

        The Registrar of Voters also supplies a copy of the voter registration rolls to city elections officials in the county and the chairpersons of the local political party central committee [at a primary election only]. 

        Under California’s Election Code and Code of Regulations, voter registration information may be used for election, scholarly, journalistic, political or governmental purposes, as defined by the Secretary of State. See Section 2194 of the California Elections Code and Chapter 1, Division 7, Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations found on the Secretary of State’s website.

        Under Section 19003 of the Code of Regulations relating to voter registration, “permissible uses” of voter registration information includes:

        • Communicating with voters in connection with any election, including but not limited to: mailings which campaign for or against any candidate or ballot measure in any election; mailings relating to the circulation or support of, or opposition to any recall, initiative, or referendum petition; and mailings by or in behalf of any political party - the content must be devoted to news and opinions of candidates, elections, political party developments and related matters.
        • Sending of newsletters or bulletins by any elected public official, political party or candidate for public office.
        • Conducting any survey of voters in connection with any election campaign, or by any government agency, political party, elected official or political candidate for election or governmental purposes.
        • Conducting an audit of voter registration lists for the purpose of detecting voter registration fraud.
        • Soliciting contributions or services as part of any election campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office or any political party or in support of or opposition to any ballot measure.
        • Any official use by any local, state, or federal governmental agency.

        Under California’s Election Code and Code of Regulations, voter registration information may be used for election, scholarly, journalistic, political or governmental purposes, as defined by the Secretary of State. See Section 2194 of the California Elections Code and Chapter 1, Division 7, Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations found on the Secretary of State’s website.

        Voter registration information cannot be used for any personal, private, or commercial purposes, including the following uses:

        • To harass any voter or member of the voter’s household
        • Advertisement, solicitation or sale of any goods or services
        • Any communication or other use solely or partially for commercial purposes
        • For the solicitation of contribution or services for any purpose other than on behalf of a candidate or political party in support of or opposition to a ballot measure
        • For conducting an opinion survey of voters, other than in connection with an election campaign, or by any government agency, political party, elected official or political candidate for election or governmental purpose   
        • Cannot be reproduced in print or be broadcast in any visual or audio method or generally available on display on any computer terminal

        No. Every approved applicant must agree not to sell, lease, loan or deliver their copy of registration information or make another copy to deliver to any person, organization or agency. It is 

        Anyone who wishes to do so must receive written authorization from the County Registrar of Voters or election official they received it from, or from the Secretary of State, if received from the state. (See Chapter 1, Division 7, Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations found on the Secretary of State’s website.)

        Yes. California Elections Code Section 18109 makes it a misdemeanor crime for any person to knowingly or willfully use or permit the use of all or part of the voter registration information in their possession for anything else than what they indicated on their application or for any use not permitted by law. It is also a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly and willfully acquire voter registration information without first having received approval by submitting an application for access.

        Under Section 19003 of Title 2, Division 7, Chapter 1 of the California Code of Regulations, every person, who directly or indirectly obtains registration information, shall be liable $0.50 for each registration record which the person used in an unauthorized manner. This means that an authorized person who uses the voter registration information for unauthorized purposes can be fined, and any person who is not authorized to gain access to or use voter registration information and does, can also be fined. 

        For more information about access to confidential voter information please see our Voter Privacy Statement. The Secretary of State has regulations about access to voter registration data, including permissible and impermissible uses, and penalties for violating the law. Please refer to Chapters 1 and 2, of Division 7, in Title 2 of the California Administrative Code. 

        Violations of the California Elections Code may be reported directly to the Secretary of State. Visit Vote Sure for more information and then send an email to:  [email protected]. You can also call (916) 657-2166 or (800) 345-VOTE (8683) or Spanish: (800) 232-VOTA (8682) to report a crime.

        All requestors must complete an application, providing name and contact information, state ID, details on who they are or represent, what type of data they are seeking, what they intend to use the data for, and who specifically will use the data if the applicant is requesting it for another user. Staff are trained to seek out the “Five Ws” (who, what, where, when and why) and ask for additional details where necessary for granting approval or denial. 

        The ROV also practices providing only minimal points of data that is necessary to meet the end user’s needs. For example, preparing data specifically relating to a candidate’s contest rather than releasing data for the entire County, even though the candidate requests access.

        As a best practice, data is only shared by secure means that allows the ROV to restrict access. For example, data may be provided by use of encrypted drives, secure File Transfer Protocols (FTP), or using a secure file-sharing service with a set of restrictions. After thorough application review, authorized users must be able to enter unique credentials provided by the ROV in order to gain access.

        Approved applicants are provided documentation from the County Information Security Office on security awareness and how to protect data while in their possession, such as protecting the voter data by securing and locking devices and to prevent it from being publicly available online or offline. 

        Anyone who has received voter registration information shall, following discovery or notification of a breach in the security of the storage of the information, immediately and without unreasonable delay disclose the breach in security to the Secretary of State. 

        No. California law requires that voting is secret, and not even the elections official can tell how you voted. Information and data about how you voted for candidates and ballot measures is not connected to your voter registration record. 

        Approved applicants can request voter history. This data only discloses the date of the election and the date and method that you cast your ballot - whether you voted by mail or whether you voted in person. For example, the data may show that you voted in the June mid-term election by mail and you chose to vote in person in the November 2018 general election.

        No. While users may access minimal registration information using the Voter Registration Lookup tool, the program does not display any names. The user provides a street address and date of birth and the result simply confirms that someone with the information entered is registered to vote. The system does not display voter names, telephone numbers, email addresses or other contact information.

        No. The online self-serve portal is not directly connected to the voter registration database. The portal only permits a user to retrieve data that is generated from the system and is frozen in time. The online portal is not connected to live data and does not accept or store data.

        Electronic poll books must be tested and approved by the California Secretary of State (SOS) before they can be used in any election. The SOS has regulations that electronic poll book vendors and county election officials must follow, including maintaining uninterrupted chain-of-custody for each poll book and having an emergency action plan that outlines the steps to be followed in the event of a failure.

        The list below shows some of the important design features of electronic poll books:

        • Cannot be connected to a voting system at any time
        • Must have back-up power for at least two hours 
        • Store a separate version of the list of voters to serve as a backup
        • Allow election workers to easily verify it is working correctly, to qualify voters and indicate they have voted, and that it is shut down correctly
        • Be able to securely encrypt and transmit all information generated by the system back to the county’s voter registration election management system (EMS) when a ballot is issued, including the date and time
        • Encrypt all data using a minimum of Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit data encryption
        • Produce a human readable audit of all actions of the system 
        • Be reformatted after each election so no voter data stays on the equipment, unless needed for a recount or other legal purposes
        • Before sale or disposal, all equipment is cleared so that no software, firmware or voter data remains, and the equipment is non-functioning

        For more information or to read the State’s complete electronic pollbook Regulations, select the Helpful Resources link found on the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.
         

        Voter registration records are maintained through stringent procedures issued by the Secretary of State. Information provided on a voter registration form is exchanged and confirmed by the Secretary of State using the identification information provided by the voter (name, date of birth, driver’s license or last 4-digits of social security, and any other historical voter information found in the system by searching for duplicate records). 

        The Secretary of State receives information from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the State Department of Corrections and the State Health Department in order to confirm and maintain voter registration information in the State of California. The county elections official (Registrar of Voters) receives information from the State Department of Health on deaths occurring within the county and the County Superior Courts regarding felony convictions and conservatorships in order to cancel the records of voters who are no longer eligible to vote. 

        Chapter 3 of Division 2 of the California Elections Code provides more information on how registrations are maintained and potentially canceled.

        No. California Government Code Section 6253.5 protects the voter information on petitions from being public record. The information can only be made available to the proponents of the petition, or the people in charge of the petition, if the petition fails to qualify.

        FAQs about Voting Systems Testing and Security Measures

          For general information on California’s voting systems visit the Secretary of State’s Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment (OVSTA). There you can select links for how systems are tested and approved, or certified, and the laws and standards that must be followed.

          Click HERE for more information on the certification process used for California’s voting systems. 

          For more detailed information about each of California’s vendors and equipment, you can visit the OVSTA’s page on Voting Technology Vendors. Select the link for Dominion Voting Systems to read about the County’s new system, and KNOWiNK to read about the new electronic pollbooks.

          Both federal and state law require voting systems be thoroughly tested and approved before they can be used to cast ballots and count votes in any election. California also requires testing and approval of ballot marking systems, ballot printing systems, and electronic pollbooks before they can be used. You can find the  requirements in Division 19 of the California Elections Code and in Chapter 6.1 of Division 7, under Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations.

          Yes. California Election Laws are strict when it comes to voting systems. Election Officials AND voting system vendors must follow testing procedures at both the time it is first delivered to the county, and again every time it is used. For example, the Registrar of Voters must keep evidence of chain of custody through initial delivery and testing and each time it leaves the storage warehouse, must conduct both pre- and post-election testing of each piece of equipment before and after it is used, and certify to the Secretary of State that the systems are accurate and functioning properly. 

          Below are additional key things the Registrar of Voters must do when purchasing and using voting technology:

          • Perform a complete test of the whole system after delivery from the vendor to the county
          • Perform a series of tests (also known as, “pre-election logic and accuracy testing” and/or “Pre-LAT”) on all voting hardware and software before each election to confirm that every device used to count ballots and record votes does so accurately
          • Confirm to the Secretary of State that the software used in the election functions correctly and is the same software delivered by the Secretary of State
          • Follow the Secretary of State’s approved procedures for setting up, delivering and securing the system during every election, including “air-gapping” and attaching both permanent and removable tamper-evident security seals on all devices that will be checked throughout the voting period
          • Prohibit internet connection on all devices and prohibit devices from receiving or transmitting voting data via an exterior computer system of any type
          • Use “two-factor authentication” for all users, requiring a minimum of two pieces of correct information be entered by the user to gain access
          • Follow  the Uniform Vote Counting Standards adopted by the Secretary of State and used throughout California

          In general, an air gap is a physical separation, isolation, or disconnection from any other device or network, including the internet, and requires data to be physically moved by some external, humanly controlled manual procedure. Election systems often use air gaps intentionally to prevent or control who has access to a system. 

          In California’s Use Procedures, elections officials must make a backup of the election database from the original installation server onto write-once media, such as a CD-R or DVD-R, and physically carry it to a second server, and install the copy election database onto this back-up server. After this point, the original permanent database cannot be used for the remainder of the election. This process physically separates two computer databases, establishing the air gap and helping to protect against the introduction and spread of viruses to the original database.

          Yes. California’s voting systems require both physical evidence of tampering and clear and complete auditing capabilities. Every appropriate or suspicious action is recorded for review, including tracking of external tamper-evident seals and internal audit trails. 

          Other protections and detections include:

          • Access to operational features, such as daily election worker opening and closing processes, require a minimum of two-factor authentication 
          • Every action taken on the tabulator and in the Election Management System (EMS) is recorded in a permanent, unalterable digital audit log
          • All tabulators must have tamper-evident security seals placed over each access point that are verified by election workers each day
          • The ballot counting machines will reject any ballot that does not meet official standards, including paper weight, thickness, and unique ballot codes indicating official ballot typing accepted by the tabulator
          • Each digital ballot image has information appended at the bottom, showing a record of how that ballot was interpreted by the machine, to allow for more efficient processing of ballots that must be determined by human eye
          • The system always preserves the voter’s original intent allowing reviewers to see how the ballot was marked, how it was interpreted by the machine and how it was settled, if necessary

          With the change to the Voter’s Choice Act in 2020 establishing multiple days of voting at over 100 different voting locations, equipment and data security in the field are key factors in the voter’s confidence in a secure election. 

          The ROV uses security carts to transport and store important vote center items such as voting machines, ballot marking devices, ballot card activators, electronic pollbooks, unused ballots and ballot containers. All equipment has both permanent and removable tamper-evident security seals cover specified points on each voting machine, card activator, and ballot on-demand printer and must be checked by the election officers before opening and closing the polls, and at times throughout the day. Election officers training includes how to detect and report suspicious tampering with any part of the election system, and if the voting equipment has been compromised, how to immediately remove the voting equipment from use.

          Since first using the County’s older system in 2003, advancements in technology and new laws have improved how we vote. In 2019, the Secretary of State issued a new requirement that more advanced and secure voting systems be used in California beginning in 2020. 

          Now, California’s voting systems are:

          • Certified to the federal Election Assistance Commission’s Voluntary Voting Systems Standards, featuring the highest security principles while preserving transparency, including both symmetric and asymmetric encryption features 
          • Using dual and removable commercially made memory cards, to enable additional duplicate copies of all election data be maintained
          • Capable of dual-installation, or allowing the use of one or more permanent server(s) and set of central-office voting devices known to be running unaltered, certified software and firmware to create memory cards before each election, and to use another physically separate “sacrificial” server and set of voting devices after the election to tabulate results and generate reports. 
          • Systems are secured with “air-gapping” measures, to ensure no cross-connections. See above question, What is air-gapping and why is it important?
          • Using paper ballots that can be verified by the voter before it is counted by the system
          • Using commercially available virus and malware protection, which must be continually maintained and can only be updated via secure and approved portable media (disc, flash drive, and external hard drives are examples) 
          • Prohibited from being connected to the Internet. Section 19205 of the California Elections Code mandates that no part of a voting system can be connected to the internet at any time, nor shall any voting system electronically receive or transmit data through an exterior network of any type.

          Election results from each Vote Center are physically transported back to the ROV. Removable memory devices containing results from each ballot scanner/tabulator will be brought to the central location where data can be extracted and uploaded into the Election Management System (EMS) for reporting. No less than two Election Workers will document the chain of custody and secure transport of ballots and devices back to the ROV’s central location on Berger Drive, including date and time from each Vote Center to the Registrar of Voters.

          No. The County’s voting system is not connected to the election results reporting application nor is it connected to the Internet. Under both state and federal law, no part of a voting system may be connected to the Internet or to any other device that is directly connected to the Internet. This includes the part of the system that accumulates and reports results.

          The ROV’s Election Night Reporting Application, or ENRA, that you see on the Internet is separate from the County’s new voting system. Election staff must physically transfer vote data from the voting system to the election results reporting application for displaying on the Internet. This is done by copying the election results from the central accumulation system to a CD or USB drive and walking it over to a different computer to upload to the Registrar of Voters’ website. This process creates an “air gap” between the vote counting and accumulation system and the vote reporting application. This security layer restricts results displayed on the Internet to only those most recently uploaded from the memory device. All memory devices are used only once during the election, cleaned and reformatted before they can be used again.

          No. It is simply a marking device that is used to “mark” votes onto a ballot card that is then printed so it can be counted. The marking device does not have the capabilities to store user actions or any votes the user made.

          No.

          That is right, neither state nor federal law permit casting a vote across the Internet. As a matter of fact, California law is strict when it comes to what election information is on the Internet or can be sent or received electronically. Especially our votes! 

          A Remote Accessible Vote by Mail, or RAVBM, system is used for the sole purpose of marking a digital copy of a vote by mail ballot, which is then printed on paper, sealed in an envelope, and returned to the elections official. RAVBM systems cannot be connected to a voting system and voters cannot cast their ballot using the system. 

          RAVBM is available to registered voters with disabilities who wish to vote privately at home using their own assistive devices and by voters who may be so remote they cannot receive their Vote by Mail ballot in time to vote and return it by mail. Voters using the RAVBM system must be able to print their ballot and return it to the election official to be verified and processed along with all other Vote by Mail ballots. Add visual/physical and military and overseas.

          Yes, all RAVBM systems used in California must go through the Secretary of State’s strenuous testing and certification process. Each approved system shall: 

          • Utilize display, mark and print functions only
          • Only allow a voter to mark and print one ballot to prevent double voting
          • Not be connected to the voting system
          • Not be used to cast a ballot or count votes
          • Not store or track any votes
          • Not have the capability to receive transmissions from the voter’s computer or internet to mark a voter’s selections 

          For more details on the certification of RAVBM systems, see Chapter 3.5 of Division 19 of the California Elections Code. 

          Yes. The Registrar of Voters must use ballot drop-boxes that are secured, locked, and made of durable material to withstand vandalism, unauthorized removal, and to prevent natural damage to ballots during inclement weather. Ballot drop boxes must also display physical evidence that any unauthorized access has taken place, such as use of tamper-evident seals placed over secured access points. 

          The California Secretary of State has issued regulations that dictate the design, functionality, and security of ballot drop boxes. The regulations can be found in Sections 20130 – 20138 of the California Code of Regulations. 

          No. See the question above for a link to California’s regulations on ballot drop-boxes, including security. 

          The California Secretary of State has issued regulations that dictate the physical security, chain of custody documentation and required number of designated ballot retrievers that county elections officials should base the design their own procedures. The regulations can be found in Sections 20137 and 20140 – 20144 of the California Code of Regulations. 

          The ROV will use trained official ballot retrievers to transport voted ballots in a secure ballot transfer container from all Ballot Drop-off Locations (BDL) to the ROV’s central location. Containers must be sealed with tamper-evident seals prior to transport and chain-of-custody documentation must accompany all retrieved ballots, including date and time of both departure from a BDL and arrival to the ROV.

          State law mandates election officials create a regular schedule of retrieving ballots from official ballot drop-boxes. During large, countywide elections, the Registrar of Voters plans to collect voted ballots starting 25-days before Election Day. Ballots will be collected three-days each week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. During the ten (10) days leading up to Election Day, the Registrar of Voters plans to collect voted ballots every day.

          You can verify that the ROV has your voted ballot in process by using the self-serve online portal. From the ROV’s homepage, click on the link called Vote by Mail Ballot Tracking, found under the Popular Services area. 

          You can also sign up for the Secretary of State’s notification services at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to get automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notifications about your ballot. 

          FAQs about Voting and Determining Election Results

            Under California election law, ID is provided at the time the individual registers to vote. Under Federal law, ID is required for first time voters who are casting their first ballot in a federal election. Outside of those identification requirements and once the voter has voted for the first time and is validated, no longer need to provide ID under California election law. Voters who present in person to vote must be able to state their name and address as it appears on the voter registration rolls and can be found in the pollbook containing the list of voters.

            All voters in Santa Clara County are issued a Vote by Mail ballot. At the time this happens, their voter registration record is marked. A voter who has lost or destroyed their initial ballot and who request a replacement ballot will have their first issued ballot cancelled. Once a voter has returned their Vote by Mail ballot or is provided a ballot at a Vote Center, their name is marked in the database as having already voted. Should the voter attempt to vote another ballot, either by mail or in person, the election management system both at the Registrar of Voters main office and contained within the electronic pollbooks use at the County’s vote centers will prevent an election worker from issuing the voter another ballot. 

            Voting twice in an election is against the law and a voter who does so may be prosecuted.

            After careful research, if it has been confirmed that the voter in question did vote twice by casting more than one ballot, the voter will be referred to the District Attorney’s Office for further investigation and possible prosecution.

            The canvass is a term used to describe the days following an election when important, detailed steps that lead up to the final certification of election results. The canvass has two important timeframes, the semifinal official canvass and the official canvass.  
             
            The semifinal official canvass officially begins at 8:00 pm on Election Night, by tabulating Vote by Mail and precinct ballots, and continuing until all precincts are accounted for, and compiling and releasing the semifinal official results. 
             
            The official canvass must commence no later than the Thursday following the election and continue daily (excepting weekends if desired) until completed. California Elections Code Section 33.5 defines the official canvass as, “the public process of processing and tallying all ballots received in an election, including, but not limited to, provisional ballots and vote by mail ballots not included in the semifinal official canvass. The official canvass also includes the process of reconciling ballots, attempting to prohibit duplicate voting by vote by mail and provisional voters, and performance of the manual tally of 1 percent of all precincts.” 
             
            The Registrar of Voters (ROV) has a Canvass Procedure Manual describing the canvass process in detail that can be found on our website under, “How Your Vote is Counted.”

            California election law establishes a 30-day maximum period to complete the official canvass. This time allows all 58 counties the same legal time to complete each step. Election officials may complete the canvass sooner but must comply with the legal maximum time. When there is high voter-turnout, the largest counties in California likely work each day of the 30-day canvass period, Saturdays and Sundays included, in order to meet that legal deadline. 

            The steps included in the official canvass are:  

            Per Section 15302 of the California Elections Code, 

            • An inspection of all materials and supplies returned by poll workers 
            • A reconciliation of the number of signatures on the roster with the number of ballots recorded, or cast and indicated, on the ballot statement
            • A reconciliation of the number of ballots counted, spoiled, canceled, or invalidated due to identifying marks, overvotes, with the number of votes recorded, including absentee and provisional ballots, by the vote counting system
            • Processing and counting any valid absentee and provisional ballots not included in the semifinal official canvass 
            • Counting any valid write-in votes
            • Reproducing any damaged ballots, if necessary
            • Reporting final results to each governing board holding an election, and the Secretary of State, if required. Reporting results includes certifying the election results and producing a detailed report of votes cast, called the “Statement of Votes” or something similar. 

            Additionally, the official canvass includes:

            • Defacing (destroying) any unused ballots (Elections Code Section 14403 - 14404)  
            • Conducting a manual tally of the ballots tabulated by the voting system in no less than 1% of the precincts, chosen at random (Elections Code Sections 36.5, 15360), and 
            • Storing and preserving all official election materials under Elections Code Division 17


            State law does not limit a county from performing additional steps to verify the election results prior to certification. For example, in Santa Clara County, the Registrar of Voters must conduct Santa Clara County Automatic Recount Policy, if necessary. 

            Yes. This is a very important step in the canvassing of the election results and is required by law.  Please see the question above, Why does it take so long to finalize election results and declare winners? You can also visit our page on Recounts and FAQs for more information on the different types of processes used to recount and verify election results.

            Required by California Elections Code Section 15350, this is the process of conducting a manual tally of votes cast in a minimum of 1% of the voting precincts established for that election, and including extra precincts in order for each contest at the election to be tallied at least once.

            Please visit our page on Recounts and FAQs for more information on the different types of recount processes. 

            The County’s mandated Automatic Recount Policy is conducted by the Registrar of Voters during the official canvass, concurrently with the state’s mandated 1% manual recount and before the election results are finalized and certified. A recount that is requested by a voter will be filed after the election results are finalized and certified. A voter requested recount is paid for, in full, by the person(s) requesting the recount.  A daily deposit will be collected in order for the voter requested recount to commence or continue.

            Please visit our page on Recounts and FAQs for more information on the different types of recount processes. 

            Unofficial just means hasn’t finished verifying all steps of canvass, official is final, official is certified. 

            The results shown on the Registrar of Voters website contain only the total number of votes cast in the election and in each contest, and do not contain a breakdown of results by voting method (Vote by Mail or in-person at a Vote Center) or precinct. The Statement of the Vote (SOV) contains the complete election results, reflecting the breakdown of each contest on the ballot for each candidate and ballot measure and reflects results cast by mail and in person and presented by neighborhood precinct number.

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