The Department of Elections Has Begun Processing Returned Vote-By-Mail Ballots

Department of Elections
City and County of San Francisco
John Arntz, Director

For Immediate Release
SAN FRANCISCO, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 – The Department of Elections has begun opening and processing accepted vote-by-mail ballot envelopes for the March 3, 2020, Consolidated Presidential Primary Election.

The United States Postal Service delivers voted vote-by-mail ballots to the Department on a daily basis as soon as the first such ballots have made their way to and from voters. The Department can begin scanning envelopes and conducting the review of voters’ signatures required under state election law as soon as ballots are returned by voters. However, the Department may begin opening the envelopes and removing ballot cards in preparation for tabulation 10 business day before Election Day.

Ballot processing is open to public observation, either in person at the Department of Elections’ office in City Hal Room 48 or by watching a live streaming on the Department’s website at

“The Department of Elections invites members of the public to observe the elections processes conducted at our main office in Room 48, City Hall and the warehouse at Pier 31,” said Director John Arntz. “For every election, we prepare and provide a Guide to Observing Elections Processes on our website,, so that those interested in observing can familiarize themselves with various elections activities and associated schedules.”

The processing of vote-by-mail ballots involves several steps. As vote-by-mail ballots are returned, Department personnel scan the outside of the envelopes through a mail sorter that records receipt of each ballot and captures the voters’ signatures on the envelopes for Department personnel review. During the review, personnel compare the signatures on return envelopes to the signature images from the voters’ registration records. The Department notifies voters whose signatures cannot be compared to any on file in several ways, detailing the actions a voter must take before the Department can count the ballot.  

In preparation for tabulation, Department personnel remove ballot cards from accepted vote-by-mail envelopes, which have been opened by a high-speed envelope opener. During this process, personnel observe ballot secrecy by keeping the sides of envelopes showing voter information face down. After the ballot cards have been removed, personnel transfer the cards to the Ballot Processing room to be scanned and tabulated for inclusion in the preliminary election results reports on Election Night.  

For more information, visit or contact the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375.


Department of Elections
City and County of San Francisco
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
City Hall, Room 48
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 554-4375

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