The 2020 election is just around the corner, and with the COVID-19 pandemic and high voter turnout expected, now is the time to get informed and ready to vote, says Assistant Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder and Assistant Chief Elections Officer Jim Irizarry. Review reporter Sarah Wright sat down with Irizarry to get all the info you need going into the 2020 election, and a summary of his answers are distilled below.

  • What options do I have to vote in November?

Residents can vote by mail or in person this fall. All San Mateo County residents currently registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail beginning Oct. 5, which they can then fill out and mail — no postage needed — or drop at any voting center or in any official ballot drop box. Residents who require screen readers to vote can use an online link to mark, print and submit their ballot.

On the Coastside, drop box locations include New Leaf Community Market in Half Moon Bay, the La Honda Fire Brigade and Pescadero’s Fire Station 59. Vote-by-mail ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day or postmarked on or before Election Day and received within the following 17 days.

Residents who choose to vote in person can visit three voting centers in Redwood City, San Mateo and South San Francisco starting Oct. 5. Forty-two centers countywide, including the Sheriff’s Office substation in Half Moon Bay and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Moss Beach, will be open for in-person voting from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3. An additional two pop-up vote centers at the La Honda Fire Brigade and Pescadero High School will be open only on Election Day. Voters can go to any center in the county, and will be able to receive accommodations like translation services and accessible voting equipment onsite. Residents can also register day-of at any voting location.

  • What health protocols will be in place at voting centers?

Each voting center will require face masks and social distancing, both inside and in line outside. The centers will be cleaned regularly and will feature plexiglass on every counter, and all poll workers will be outfitted with personal protective equipment.

  • How can I make sure my ballot was received?

If voting by mail, residents can track their ballot online at wheresmyballot.sos.ca.gov and make sure it was received.

  • What safeguards are in place to keep the election secure?

The county uses a digital system that produces paper ballots, so each ballot record can be verified and audited. Election employees scan and personally compare signatures from voter registration files to those on the official ballot envelope, and, if a duplicate comes in, only the first ballot will be accepted. The voting tabulation system is never connected to the internet, making it secure from cyber attacks. Irizarry said anytime there is a live ballot, two people are required to handle it.

Irizarry said he is very confident in the security of the 2020 election in San Mateo County.

“Not one vote in San Mateo County and throughout the United States has actually been compromised by an intrusion,” Irizarry said. “Voters should feel confident that our current cybersecurity defenses at the national and state levels are amongst the best.”

Voter registration technology is the only part of the process that is connected to the internet, but Irizarry said the county’s firewall plus a push-and-pull data system with encryption keeps voter info out of individual hands.

The biggest threat to the 2020 election, Irizarry and election officials nationwide say, is reduced voter confidence because of misinformation. Irizarry said that those looking to influence the U.S. election are probing the voter registration system, not to change any votes, but simply to sow distrust in election infrastructure.

“A malicious actor or criminal does not have to get into our voting tabulation to change a vote if they can get in the minds of the voter to undermine the confidence of the voter,” Irizarry said.

Irizarry said his office also runs an election night observer program where anyone is allowed to visit the Registration and Elections Division in San Mateo and watch election officials tabulate votes.

  • Will results be delayed?

Because San Mateo County uses the more secure paper ballot system, Irizarry said scanning votes may take election employees overnight on Election Day, so results may not come in until early the next morning.

Irizarry expects 60 percent of votes to be cast before Election Day and early winners to be called within a day or two. But ballots that are postmarked on Nov. 3 will be accepted up to 17 days later, meaning results will continue to roll in almost through the county’s certification period 30 days later.

  • What can I do today to get ready for the 2020 election?

Voters can go online at smcacre.org/register-vote today to register or confirm their voter registration status. Local nonprofits Puente, Coastside Hope, Coastside Immigrant Advocacy Group and SF Latino Community Foundation are offering bilingual help with registration every day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at (650) 394-7799.

Irizarry said the county expects a large turnout and, because of mandated social distancing at polling locations, long lines on Election Day. That’s why his advice to residents is to get to know who and what is on the ballot, and to vote as early as is convenient.

“Every voter has a responsibility to become an informed voter,” Irizarry said.

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