The high-priced help from the state Democratic and Republican parties -- attorneys and election-law experts -- flooded to the Ventura County Government Center today to oversee clerks as they sorted through the ballots yet to be counted in the 19th District Senate race. That's the one in which Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland are separated by 108 votes, to Jackson's slight advantage.
I observed for a half-hour or so this afternoon, and it had all the excitement of watching insurance underwriters crunch actuarial tables. As the clerks went through their tedious but essential task of checking the signature on each mail-in ballot against the digitized version of the voter's signature on their computer screens, three or four people hovered just outside their cubicles. It was hard not to feel sorry for them -- who likes to work with someone looking over your shoulder?
During the time I watched, there were only two abnormal events. A junior clerk asked a more senior associate to take a second look at one signature, which was confirmed because the loops and slants of the voter's signature matched, even though the signatures were not identical. In a second instance, a ballot was set aside because it was not signed.
Deputy Registrar of Voters Tracy Saucedo told me that elections officials are careful not to play "gotcha" with voters over their signatures, since those can change as a result of aging or disability. If a signature includes similar loops, slants and other graphic qualities, Saucedo said her staff's instructions are to liberally apply the matching-standard so as not to disenfranchise a voter.