MARTINEZ (KPIX 5) — With the heavy scrutiny being placed on mail-in ballots this election, officials in Contra Costa County are taking steps to ensure they are counted properly this November.

Rhetoric from President Donald Trump about possible voter fraud and concerns surrounding issues with the U.S. Postal Service — both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and controversial changes instituted by U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — have raise questions about the safety and security of mail-in ballots.

The first step a mail-in ballot goes through in Contra Costa County is to be inserted into a mail sorting machine in a secure warehouse. A camera snaps a picture of the voter’s information and signature, while also ensuring a ballot for the correct election is being used.

The ballots will be gathered every day from the post office and 37 drop boxes around Contra Costa County and handled 5,000 at a time by the machine.

“We stop and we send those images that the camera took over to our signature verification team. Our automated system will take a picture and they will display it next to the voter’s registration record. One over the other and a human being makes a comparison,” said Asst. Registrar Scott Konopasek.

That signature comparison and ballot check can happen as soon as the registrar receives it and 99 percent of all ballots are approved.

Per state law, on October 19th — two weeks before the election — the office can start opening and handling ballots.

On Thursday, Contra Costa County officials were doing a 30,000 ballot test on their four high-speed ballot scanning machines.

“To make sure the machines are functioning properly, to make sure every contest was programmed correctly and that votes are accumulating to the right candidates,” Konopasek told KPIX 5.

Anyone worried about hackers getting to those machines shouldn’t, according to Konopasek.

“It’s not connected to the outside world. None of these machines are connected to anything outside of this room. It’s a closed network. It’s a highly secure area, we have surveillance cameras, we have an alarm system, we have security badge controls,” said Konopasek.

Scanning will begin on October 27th in Contra Costa County. Results are transferred via thumb drive to upload into the system on Election Day in another secure, badge-only entry room just steps away from the high-speed scanners.

“We have inventory controls on those thumb drives. Only certain thumb drives can be used and it’s used one time. And then the next time, it’s another thumb drive. So the thumb drive doesn’t come back in and get plugged back in here,” said Konopasek.

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