San Benito County assistant clerk-recorder-registrar of voters Francisco Diaz, left, is pictured in October 2020 helping to install a ballot drop box outside Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista. Windmill Market shopping center will again be one of six ballot drop box locations throughout the county for the June 7 primary election. File photo

The San Benito County Department of Elections put the finishing touches on a set of its latest installation of official ballot drop boxes just in time for the first day of the 2020 General Election.  

Mary Avanti was at the Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista on Oct. 5, checking out the newest giant white steel boxes to hit the streets. 

The 73-year old Gilroy resident said she was ecstatic that a drop box was finally installed in west San Benito County, stressing the importance of having it available for those who can’t make it to a polling place or the post office.

“You might be carrying your [ballot] envelope in the car with you and the thing is you forget it’s in the car, so you don’t get to the post office,” she said. “But when you get here, boom, you drive by and drop it in. It’s just like ordering a hamburger.” 

The county now has six ballot drop box locations: Windmill Center, 301 The Alameda; Hollister Super at 1280 San Juan Road; Hollister Fire Station No. 2 at 2240 Valley View Road; Community Food Bank of San Benito County at 1133 San Felipe Road; the Ridgemark Office at 100 Ridgemark Drive; and on Winn Alley at Fifth Street in between the Department of Elections and the public library buildings. 

The drop boxes are open throughout the day with 24 hour surveillance and ballots are picked up twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Additional ballot drop boxes will also open up beginning Oct. 31 with locations at Dunneville Cafe and Market at 5970 San Felipe Road, Tres Pinos Market at 6851 Airline Highway and the Aromas Fire Station at 492 Carpenteria Road. The drop boxes will be open based on business hours except for Nov. 3, when they will be open until the polls close at 8pm.

Ballots have been mailed to all registered voters and they should expect their package within the next few days. 

Francisco Diaz, assistant county clerk-recorder-registrar of voters, said it doesn’t matter to him what party the voters represent. He just wants to let people know the drop boxes are another service that the elections department is providing. 

“It makes me happy to see the elections team and their efforts are appreciated and also that these boxes are going to be used,” Diaz said. “We want to see the voters get excited about voting.”

Diaz said that about 80 percent of San Benito County voters send their ballots by mail. The drop boxes are particularly useful for voters in unincorporated areas.

“I think it’s helpful for San Juan Bautista,” he said. “No need to go all the way to our office, no need to mail it through the post office. You can just drop it off here.” 

Avanti has worked in a voting precinct for the past 50 years and is a veteran when it comes to counting ballots. She said it was the first time she’d ever seen an official ballot drop box but she was all for the idea, especially if it encourages people to get out and vote. 

“People ask ‘Is it safe?’” she said. “I say you have no idea the layer of oversight. You have so many precinct watchers.”

Diaz said there are multiple layers of security at the drop boxes. There will be two audit logs–inside and outside of the drop box–and two sets of people will grab the ballots.

Another set of people reviews the ballots at the office where their signatures are verified and scanned. That’s followed by another group opening them up and comparing the ballot with the envelope to make sure the signatures match.

“Then you separate them, do an audit of the envelope and the ballot and then you start counting them,” he said. 

California closes registration on Oct. 19, however, voters may still register and vote the same day if they can provide some additional verification. Diaz said they are highly encouraging voters to submit their ballots by mail or at one of the drop boxes.

“Vote early, as well,” he said. 

Mary Avanti takes a photo of a new official ballot drop box that was installed in front of the Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista. (Juan Reyes)
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