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'Voter Confidence Tour' aims to show how ballots are securely handled from start to finish

Local groups are showing how elections are handled, hoping it encourages more voters to trust the process.

LARGO, Fla. — For much of the Tampa Bay area, early voting has already begun. As voters make their way to the polls or cast their votes by mail, the supervisors of elections are ensuring every ballot is checked and counted properly. 

"Any way you choose [to vote], all of them are secure," Julie Marcus, the Pinellas County supervisor of elections, said.

How is that done? Florida Resiliency and the Fair Elections Network teamed up with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections to give a behind-the-scenes look at what happens in the voting process from start to finish.

It starts well before you get to fill in small ovals. Through voter registration, county election offices verify your identity and are able to track your ballot throughout the election process.

"So for example with mail ballots, in order to get a mail ballot, you have to request one, those requests are processed, and you have to give us specific identifying information," Marcus explained. "When you go to vote in person, you have to show your signature and photo ID. And then for mail ballots when they come back, those mail ballots, we then verify every single one of those signatures."

When ballots are sent in, machines are used to count the votes. They're programmed to catch any errors made on the ballot.

"So Florida has a very rigorous certification process in order for an election office to use tabulation equipment," Marcus said. 

Ballots filled out improperly are separated for a canvassing committee to publicly review.

"Tabulation in the system is engineered, it's meant to catch voter intent errors," Marcus said. "So there are parameters that are set where you have that oval that is supposed to be fully filled in. And if a voter were to check or a voter were to circle the name instead of filling in the oval, or let's say they made a mistake and they crossed it out and filled in another, the system is set up to, what they call, out stack those."

After election night and the vote totals come in, each ballot is kept in a storage area for 22 months after an election. Once the necessary storage period has ended, the ballots are incinerated. 

"I am 100 percent secure in our voting process from beginning to end," Marcus said.

People were brought in from every end of the political spectrum to see the process up close and personal at the Pinellas County supervisor of elections office. The goal is to dispel misconceptions and misinformation spread about the election process.

"The electoral process needs to be a transparent process," Marcus said. "Everything that we do is open to the public..."

This behind-the-scenes look is open to anyone interested in seeing it. You can ask for details while you're here voting, or by going to votepinellas.gov.

The Florida Resiliency and Fair Elections Network will be visiting six county supervisors of elections offices in total. 

Malique Rankin is a general assignment reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. You can email her story ideas at mrankin@10tampabay.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

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