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Meet the Man Who Makes Your Vote Count: Collin County’s Elections Administrator

The 2020 Presidential Election is set to be one of the most important and contested of our time, and it’s taking place in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Presidential Election is set to be one of the most important and contested of our time, and it’s taking place in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Pew Research Center found that voters are deeply divided about many aspects of the voting process, including whether the final vote counts can be trusted. 

According to their research, 76 percent of voters who support Biden are confident that the country will know the winner of the presidential election after all the votes are counted, yet only 55 percent of Trump supporters share their confidence. 

However, most surveyed voters (94 percent of Biden supporters and 88 percent of Trump supporters) said that they felt elections would be administered well in their particular community.

The minutia of election administration happens at a county level. Every individual ballot in Collin County falls under the purview of the Collin County elections office and elections administer Bruce Sherbet. 

The elections administrator is an appointed position that oversees elections processes in the county. That includes voter registration, voting equipment, election supplies, programming, training, turnkey position overseeing elections. We spoke to Bruce Sherbet about his job, overseeing elections processes in the midst of the most turbulent election of our time.

What is your background?

A long time ago, I started in the Dallas County tax office. Back then, voter registration was supervised by the tax office. That was in 1980. In 1981, Dallas created the elections administration office. I worked in voter registration for four years, then elections admin for three, and took over [as administrator] for Dallas from 87 to 2011. Then I worked for Ellis County for two years, and I’ve been with Collin County for five years.

What kind of changes have you seen in 40 years? 

You know, every election is different, but every election is also almost identical. Technology has been monumental in terms of change. When I first started in Dallas, we still used lever machines. Then we transitioned to punch cards for 17 years, then optical scan and touch screens. I’ve seen every kind of voting technology. 

Also, in 1987, early voting became unrestricted. A voter used to have to have a reason to vote early, but when early voting became unrestricted, it completely changed how elections operate. Four years ago 83 percent of votes in Collin County were early votes.

What does that mean for Election Day 2020?

Election day is no longer the main event.  Every day of early voting is like a mini election day now. Campaigns have to start campaigning earlier. If you save your campaigning for election day, you’ll lose because early voting is so popular. We’ll likely have 85 percent of votes cast by election day. 

How does Collin County compare to others where you’ve worked?

This county really embraces early voting. Collin County is topping the state in terms of percentage of registered voters that have turned out early. [As of Thurs. Oct. 29] we’re at 62 percent of registered voters who have already voted. 

But it’s always that way. Even on Super Tuesday, waits are 20 minutes or less. There are some exceptions, rush hours before and after work. Four years ago we were part of a study about wait times at polls, and we didn’t have any location with wait times more than 20 minutes. 

How many voters are in Collin County?

We have about 650,000 registered voters. As of [Thursday afternoon] we have had 391,355 in-person early voters and have mailed out about 44,000 mail ballots. Tomorrow, we’ll probably have another 30,000 vote. That would be 437,000 voted before Election Day. I’d estimate that easily around 500,000 votes will be cast in Collin County this year.

How does that compare to past years?

This year we could be looking at 75 percent turnout. That would be historic in aggregate terms and in terms of percentages. But that’s speculative. 

How does that percentage compare to past election years?

Usually about 65 to 70 percent of registered voters actually turn out and vote, so in terms of percents, we’re setting records. We also have 100,000 more voters in this county than we did four years ago. So we’re seeing the results of both tremendous growth and a healthy record-setting turnout.

How has your office had to adapt to meet that growth?

We’ve increased early voting locations. In past years, we’ve have 73 locations on election day and this year, we’ll have 102. Part of that is related to COVID-19, we’re trying to spread voters out. The Governor also passed an executive order extending early voting. We usually have 12 days of early voting, 12-hours a day. We have 18 of those days now. 

Friday Oct. 30 is the last day of early voting. What are you expecting?

I expect it to be the highest turnout for the whole period.

What do poll workers need to know how to do to handle voters in these numbers?

I’ve conducted 45 training classes for this election, all workers, judges, alternates, clerks, everyone. We’ve trained on software, social distancing, hand sanitizing, qualifying voters, on security, chain of custody, securing equipment, record-keeping. There’s a lot to the auditing process that most people don’t know, so we are very thorough. 

What do people not realize about the voting process on your end?

I think not everyone realizes how much security there is. We’re addressing questions and concerns as they arise. From testing the equipment, to the chain of custody, to how it’s secured with seals at the end of every day, to ensuring we have bipartisan poll workers in equal number at each location, and the reports that are required from each location. 

What’s your thought process on protecting ballots from tampering?

Ballots are like currency. If we give 1,000 ballots to a location, we need to account for every single one. We keep track of how many were used to vote, how many were unused, if any were spoiled. We track every ballot. 

So tampering with ballots is difficult?

Very. There’s also no internet connection on voting machines, and they are kept with a special seal for security. We also have thousands of these voting machines. Seal and secure. We have thousands of them. To tamper with them, you’d have to have physical access, but there’s also software protections in place to shut down and keep track of any possible tampering attempts. 

It’s all protected in a much greater way than you’d think. When a voter votes, the poll books are updated instantly. If someone mails in a ballot, it’s updated instantly. 

We do a lot of detailed training on protections. We’ve had 400,000 votes so far. All those reports from every polling station are reviewed by a nonpartisan board to make sure, with representatives from both major parties. That’s a separate process from my office, to review these documents, make sure they’ve checked. 

Has it been a challenge to find enough poll workers for this election? 

It’s been a little challenging—not getting people lined up—but because of people bowing out. Lot of people have signed up to volunteer, more than I remember. Over 2,000 expressed interest, but some have dropped out at the last minute if they’re high risk for COVID-19. We have about 1300 in the process. We have to stay on top of it. So we have stand by lists, we have backup plans. We have emergency response repair teams roving around so that if a piece of equipment goes down, there’s a field tech available to address it. 

We have 100 different things working at the same time. 

Are our voting systems better now than they were in 1980? 

I’ve seen more pluses than minuses thus far, comparing voting now to when I started. We’re more accurate, voter roles and more efficient, equipment is more user friendly, and the information is available much sooner. 

There’s a state system, a master system. Everyone follows the same rules. We can update poll booths electronically instantly. We even post wait times at polling locations on our website and election results. 

What advice do you have for voters this year, other than social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizing?

I recommend voters do some research. You can bring notes with you to look at in line, as long as they’re just for you. The ballots this year are bigger than ever because local elections that were supposed to be in May were postponed until November. The more you can study before you go, the better so that you’re ready when you get your ballot.