Absentee ballots and early voting
Absentee voting started Oct. 10, Kim Horn, director of the Board of Elections explained. Since Oct. 10, voters have been able to cast their votes via an absentee ballot, which is mailed to their home after the voter fills out an application and can be mailed back to the BOE or submitted in person. Early voting took place by visiting the BOE, Horn said. Horn estimated that there were close to 8,000 voters who voted via absentee ballot or early voting for this year’s election. There were also 69 uniformed and overseas citizens absentee voting act ballots in Knox County for the election, according to Horn.
Though the BOE is not allowed to begin tabulating or cataloging early voting until 7:30 p.m. on election night, they are allowed to begin processing them as early as 19 days before the election. With just over two weeks to get organized for election night, the voter, indicated on the envelope containing their absentee ballot, will be looked up in the voter record and the record will be updated to give the voter “credit” for voting. Once the information is recorded, the voter envelopes are turned upside down for the process of taking the ballots out so that the workers scanning the ballots don’t see the associated voter information with each ballot.
The scanner takes a picture of each side of the ballot as they are received. Ballots are run through without being tabulated to make sure they will go through properly on election night. The BOE has just 15 minutes to run every absentee ballot through the tabulation machine so that they can report the results to the Secretary of State by 7:45 p.m. It is vital that the process run smoothly. Issues with ballots, including improperly marked bubbles or bubbles that aren’t filled in dark enough and other issues such as a ripped ballot paper, can hold up the process on election night, especially because ballots that don’t scan properly must be reprinted and “fixed” before they can be sent through the machine again. In order to fix a ballot, Horn said, the ballot will be reprinted and re-marked to reflect the voter’s choices by a bipartisan team of one Democrat BOE employee and one Republican BOE employee.
Poll workers at Knox County precincts begin to ready themselves for election day a few weeks before with a training class put on by the Knox County BOE and an online poll worker class that the state puts on. Each precinct has a balanced number of Democrat and Republican workers, typically two from the Democrat and Republican parties, Horn explained, that will help voters throughout the day. Horn noted that in some circumstances, registered voters with no party affiliation have worked at precinct locations but said that it is preferred workers at the precinct be registered Republicans and Democrats.
There are two types of poll workers known as judges and presiding judges, who are also called location managers. Both are compensated for their time spent at the precincts on election day and for their training classes. Presiding judges, who are responsible for delivering results to the BOE after polls close, are also compensated for their mileage.
On election day morning, poll workers start their day around 5:30 or 6 a.m. at their various precinct locations. They will stay at the locations until polls close at 7:30 p.m. “Rovers” visit the various precincts to help poll workers ensure that the machines are properly hooked up and cleared out and to help with any troubleshooting before voting starts.
Once a voter has filled out their ballot, a poll worker will help them feed the ballot through the scanner/tabulator DS200 machine. The ballot information will be stored along with photo copies on the USB, which will stay in the machine until the polls close. The actual paper ballots will pass through the machine into a sealed box which is also locked into the machine that is transported to and stored at the BOE at the same time the results are delivered.
Scanners will stay at the precincts over night and will then be picked up and stored at the Knox County Service Center until the next election or primary. All ballots, both used and unused, absentee or traditional, will be kept by the BOE in the case of an audit or recount. On even voting years, ballot information is stored for 22 months before it is destroyed. For odd voting years, ballots are kept for just 60 days before being destroyed. Recounts are completed by hand by the BOE in the case of a half-percent margin or less in poll numbers. Audits are completed on even years for whichever election the state chooses. The USBs containing ballot information are cleared out after each election, Horn said.
Poll workers also help voters with mobility restrictions with “curbside ballots.” Poll workers will take the ballot out to them and the voter will then seal their ballot in an envelope just as with absentee and early voting ballots. To ensure voter privacy, the sealed envelopes are not scanned at each precinct and are instead submitted to the BOE to be scanned.
The typical election day for the BOE starts at 5 a.m. Throughout the day they take calls to help voters and process absentee ballots that are mailed in or dropped off. The night starts getting really busy at 7:30 p.m., when polls close and as the absentee/early voting ballots begin to be tabulated and reported.
Once the polls close and the USBs from a precinct’s DS200 machines are brought into the BOE, Deputy Director Scott Howard will put the information into the Election Reporting Manager (ERM) software to get the results from each precinct. Initially, when the information is put into the ERM, Howard can only see that the ballots have been read and get a count on how many ballots were read. The results from the submitted ballots aren’t shown until he prints out a report to be passed on to Horn, who will send the information on to the Secretary of State every half-hour until every precinct has submitted their ballots, which Horn said is typically around 9:30 or 10 p.m.
In 2016, Knox County switched over to a fully paper ballot process rather than the iVotronic electronic voting machines, which Howard explained makes the job easier for the BOE and tends to make the voting process easier. The electronic machines would often have calibration issues, which made the process for selecting options more difficult for voters. An all-paper ballot system also means that the BOE has one method of accepting votes across the board from absentee and early voters to traditional voters at the precincts.
Races with write-in votes are also tabulated and pictures are taken of all the write-in sections, Howard explained. He goes through all the images and “makes sure the ones that are valid are getting the votes.” For results from races that span a number of different counties, such as in the case of the state representative of the 68th district, which includes all of Knox and parts of Delaware, Horn has to get finalized results from “the less populous” county to officially submit to the state following the elections. In this case, because only a small portion of Delaware sits in the 68th district, Knox County is considered the “most populous” county which makes the responsibility of reporting fall to Horn.
While most results are submitted on election night, there are some that aren’t included until the official results are given. Absentee ballots are accepted for up to 10 days after the election as long as they are post marked on the day before the election. The other results that aren’t included come from voters on “provisional ballots.” Provisional ballots are given to voters who weren’t properly registered to vote by the 30-day registration deadline. Horn explained that all results must be certified by Nov. 27.
Knox County’s results were fully submitted as of 9:04 p.m. Tuesday evening with all 52 precincts reporting in. Voter turn out was 53 percent with 22,430 ballots cast.