BEHIND THE SCENES: Printing your ballot

Ballot Printing Press
Posted at 9:42 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 00:52:39-04

PHOENIX — The 2020 election is on the minds of many, but none more so than the men and women tasked to make it happen.

Runbeck Elections Services started preparing for the election in 2017 when they built their brand-new facility off of 32nd Street and University in Phoenix.

"This year we will be the largest mail ballot producer in the country, so the importance that comes out of this facility here is obviously critical," said President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Ellington.

The process starts at the county level. Runbeck is responsible for printing ballots for dozens of counties across the U.S. Once they receive the order from the counties, that includes a PDF with how each ballot is supposed to look, their work begins.

Currently, the facility is running 24/7, with employees working 12-hour shifts to make sure millions of ballots are ready to be sent out nationwide the following week.

"Any one press can do about 400,000 ballots, so we’ve got three of the bigger presses we will be printing out here about one million ballots every day," added Ellington. "This fall, we'll likely print 35 million ballots."

"We do what’s called pre-press to make sure all the fonts are correct, everything on the ballot is OK, all the data is OK," explained Ellington.

That alone takes time. Maricopa County, the second largest voting jurisdiction in the U.S., has 2,000 ballot types, according to Ellington. Each has to be sent out to voters in different cities and districts. That includes varying local races including city council, school board members, and more.

In July, Pinal County voters noticed an entire race missing from their ballots. The Secretary of State’s office said the issue stemmed from a mapping error.

Ellington says their team not only prints the ballots, but matches each ballot type to the correct voter, using information provided by each state, narrowing it down to zip code, and other key factors.

"[The voter's] name and address is pulled out of the database," said Ellington. "We will put that on the envelope, everything will be inserted - the ' I voted' sticker, the instructions, the return envelope, the ballot and everything will be sealed up. It’ll be checked off the database so that the voter only gets one ballot."

It's a crucial step to secure the voting system.

Once those voters who choose to vote-by-mail fill their ballots and mail them back, Runbeck's security verification comes into play. The company records data from the envelopes received. Ellington says they take photos of the signatures on each green return envelope and measure each mail package's thickness- to check there's only one ballot inside.

Ones that have more than one, or none, are denied. The company doesn't open the envelopes. They later return the unopened mail packages to Maricopa County, who opens each ballot in a secure room to be tabulated.