Inside the secure room where votes are kept

CNN/ Newswire | 10/23/2020, 11:22 a.m.

By Jamie Bittner

York County, PA (WPMT) -- What happens to your ballot, after you turn it in?

FOX43 was granted permission to go inside the locked and secured room where the unopened returned ballots are being kept in York County.

"There are less than a handful of people who have access to that room. The Sheriff's Deputies certainly have access to that room. I have access to that room. Usually other than that, no one else has access to that room," said Julie Wheeler, President of the York County Commissioners, who added she is never in the room by herself and is always accompanied by a deputy.

FOX43's Jamie Bittner was also accompanied by a deputy as she was allowed inside the door that is only opened by badge. Each badge is coded so the county knows who enters the room and at what time.

"If the badge was stolen, even misplaced, I would immediately call the facility director and the sheriff's office to deactivate it," said Wheeler.

Wheeler said no one gets access to the room without the request first going through the county leaders and the sheriff's deputies. The moment the door is opened, lights activate and cameras start rolling.

"Whoever the individual is is tracked. All of their movements are tracked. Everything is date and time stamped. Everything is recorded. So, no one can go in there unnoticed," said Wheeler.

Counties across the state can't start opening mail in and absentee ballots until the day of the election at 7 am. Until then, counties must find a way to keep the returned ballots under a tight lock and key.

"Right now we actually have sheriff deputies staffed on all floors of the county administration building," said Wheeler, who added that if a problem did occur in the room where the returned ballots are stored, deputies could be there in '5 seconds.'

The room is also a fire suppression room, to keep the ballots secure. Ballots are stacked in bins that are color-coated for mail-in's absentee, and military votes.

York County has received nearly 25,000 returned ballots and it is expecting nearly 100,000 in total by the election.

The county has set up a drop off box at 28 East Market Street where FOX43 found voters lining up this week to submit their ballots. York County has designated a county worker near the box to assist voters and make sure they have completed actions such as signing the back of their ballot envelope and placing it inside the secrecy envelope before submitting it.

Only sheriff deputies have the key to the ballot drop-off box and county workers are accompanied by a deputy when carrying the ballots to any location. The drop-off ballots are taken to a room where ballots that arrive by mail are also kept. The ballots each have an individual barcode which is scanned to make sure no one can vote twice. Information such as the voters address and signature are also checked. The ballots are checked the same day that they arrive, in order to make sure they all are placed in the secure room.

Wheeler said the county is only using county employees to handle the ballots and no one person is part of the process from start to finish. All county employees are background checked.

"We are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety and security of their ballots," she said.