As Election Day 2020 approaches, voters in the United States are wrangling with a flurry of questions, beyond what’s on their ballots: Will my mail-in ballot be delivered in time to be counted? What is the most secure way to cast my absentee ballot? Will I have to wait hours in line if I want to vote in person?
With concerns about COVID-19 top of mind, record numbers have turned out for early voting and demand for mail-in ballots surged to an all-time high. More than 25 states have expanded ways for people to cast their votes to make the process easier and more accessible, and an estimated 80 million people could be voting by mail in this election — twice as many as in 2016. At the same time, headlines about ballot security, accuracy, and unproven claims of fraud have made an already unprecedented election feel even more anxiety-inducing.
To meet the demand, print provider Runbeck Election Services has spent the past few months running a steady stream of more than 60,000 mail-in ballots every hour on four HP digital presses inside its 90,000-square foot facility in Phoenix, Arizona, with security measures at every step.
These presses have the capabilities to “accurately marry the front and back of the ballot perfectly,” using timing marks along the ballot’s edge so each vote is recorded properly, says Jeff Ellington, president and chief operating officer at Runbeck, which is supplying ballots to states and counties across the country. “If it’s even a fraction of an inch off, the ballot would not tabulate correctly.”
Runbeck is one example of how companies and nonpartisan advocacy organizations are taking action, using technology solutions and grassroots campaigns to ensure everyone who wants to vote has a voice this year and beyond.
“Our job is to defend democracy,” says Ellington. “Up until this year, that felt like a nice tagline. This year, it means a lot more.”
The most important print job of the year
In early March, Ellington and his team at Runbeck realized that their “busy season” this election year would be different from any other. So, the company ramped up production, ordering 6,500 miles of paper for November, leasing 40,000 square feet of space beyond its 90,000-square-foot facility, and running operations 24/7 some weeks on its three web-based HP PageWide inkjet presses and one HP Indigo digital press, each able to print approximately 10 million ballots.
“In 2016, we printed about 4 million mail-in ballots,” Ellington says. “This year it’s going to be around 15 or 16 million.” Add in ballots for in-person voting, and that number rises to 35 million.
To help maintain data integrity, an HP press stamps each ballot with a barcode to indicate a unique style — some large counties might have 2,000 different ballot styles, varying based on the candidates and propositions being voted on in each voter’s location. “Everything is encrypted across all of our data processes,” Ellington says. “It’s the highest level of security we can provide.”