Riverside County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil said today she anticipates a "busy election" day and night in the face of a record- breaking number of voter registrations and requests for vote-by-mail ballots.
"Everything we can do will be done to process returns ... as quickly as possible," Verjil told City News Service. "We're fully staffed and ready to work around the clock if necessary."
According to the registrar, an unprecedented 944,283 people are registered to vote countywide in next Tuesday's general election. In the 2008 presidential election, the number of registered voters topped out at 838,716.
Verjil said roughly 530,000 county residents had requested absentee ballots. In 2008, the number was around 379,000.
"We're seeing a steady flow of ballots come in," the registrar said. "We hope that continues. The sooner we get those vote-by-mail ballots, the sooner we can start processing them. I can't emphasize that enough."
By noon today, 175,000 absentee ballots had been returned.
Because of the number of local, state and national races -- including a slew of initiatives -- voters are using a two-card ballot in this election. That means longer processing times, even with all of the county's 11 Sequoia Optech ballot scanners running flat out on election night, Verjil said.
"We're in for a busy election," she said. "The scanners are advertised as counting 400 ballots per minute, but we don't see that kind of thru-put. That only happens with perfect flat ballots. The VBMs are folded."
She said the labor invested extracting ballots from envelopes and verifying signatures creates further unavoidable delays.
"We have plenty of staff here to get everything processed. Our operation is running from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.," Verjil said, adding that shifts are planned through the weekend and all night on Nov. 6.
The registrar has hired more than 250 temporary workers to assist with processing ballots. Her office has a permanent staff of 25.
The election has not been without controversy, with allegations of fraudulent activity and clerical hiccups.
According to Verjil, her office was made aware recently of potential illegal registration practices outside an area mall. Witnesses reported that a group operating booths invited shoppers to register but did not give them the option of choosing their political affiliation.
Verjil, who declined to identify the group, forwarded the complaints to the California Secretary of State's Office for investigation.
The registrar also received at least one complaint of a misspelled name on an absentee ballot, raising the prospect of a vote being discounted.
"With more than 940,000 registered voters, we do our best to enter information accurately, but there are occasions when a mistake will be made," she said.
A voter whose name is misspelled on a vote-by-mail ballot has the option of requesting another one, or they can simply mark through the misprint and write the correct name, Verjil said.
"We will do signature verification and make sure the signature matches the information on file," she said.
Absentee voters who wait until the last minute to complete a ballot have the option of dropping it at their nearest polling station on election day, or dropping it directly at the registrar's office, 2724 Gateway Drive, Riverside, which will also be open all day Saturday.
As in June, Verjil said off-duty sheriff's deputies will be used on election night to retrieve ballots at the county's 16 countywide collection centers and transport them to the registrar's headquarters.
A sheriff's helicopter crew will also ferry ballots from Blythe to Riverside to expedite handling.
"Our top priority is to count the votes accurately and in a timely manner," Verjil said.
She will be posting regular updates next Tuesday night on the progress in processing ballots on the registrar's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Riverside-County-Registrar-of- Voters/195311860513146.
Verjil said the absentee ballots processed this week will comprise the initial returns posted immediately after the polls close at 8 p.m. next Tuesday.