Chairman explains Election Night procedures

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sheriff Les Helton recalls election results coming in late four years ago when he was re-elected, saying it was before midnight. Others have said they found out he was re-elected in the wee hours of that Friday morning in August four years ago.

It's happened before, but Marshall County Election Commission Chairman Don Wright isn't interested in delays this year, even though the ballot shows five men are running for sheriff, three men want to be county mayor and all 18 county commission seats are up for grabs.

"I remember at one time, the people would close up the polls and then they'd go to eat," Wright said when asked about what time results might be known after election polls close on the night of Thursday, Aug. 5. "That can't happen now.

"Mark Goins is the new state elections coordinator and in June, I went to a three-day seminar," Wright said. "He is emphatic that he wants it done right."

During the seminar, Wright said, the speakers from the state elections office "were passing the new regulations down to us."

Those rules were passed by the Legislature, he said, discouraging delays on election night.

The people hired by the Marshall County Election Commission to be election workers are expected to attend one of two classes so they'll know what to do when they are election poll officials. They are at different times, so people with work schedules can attend.

There are human factors, but the first hurdle to overcome -- when determining when results will be calculated - is who is the last voter in line at 7 p.m., the deadline to present yourself to vote.

That individual will be recognized and people arriving thereafter will be turned away as having arrived after 7 p.m.

"If it takes an hour for him to vote -- that is to get to the voting machine (through the line of others waiting to vote) and cast a ballot - then the poll can't close until he's finished," Wright said.

There are technical issues, too.

"We've changed machines about three times in eight years," Wright said.

A recent change was to have machines with headphones for a Spanish speaking voter to get instructions in their native tongue. Such machines have been used in Bedford County.

At 7 p.m., a county-paid poll worker "should close the doors to keep everybody else out," Wright said.

The voting booths will be folded up like into as suitcase sized compartment and they will bring them to the office: three, four or five depending on how many machines they've got.

"All the votes and totals will remain in the election machines until the Election Commission certifies the results," he said.

However, election workers will "get a total number of voters from each machine put that in an envelope and seal the envelope," Wright continued. "Then they total the votes, so they will know the results at the precinct before they leave.

"But they are sworn to secrecy, or confidentiality on that precinct's results," the election commission chairman said.

"There's a computer-generated tape that is printed by each voting machine and those are put in the metal box with the paper ballots to be carried to the election office, along with all the registration papers," he said. "They'll have all the books and the stubs from the ballot. We don't leave any rolls at the precincts."

At the Election Commission office in the Hardison Office Annex on College Street, the poll workers will deliver their information to officials, including a computer technician.

The technician is a state employee. There's one sent to every county.

"He comes to the election office and stays all day," Wright said. "He, along with one person of each party, takes the ballot box at the election office and reads the computer chip and compares it to what was read (on a paper tape) when the precinct was closed.

"Then they compare the total number of ballots cast to the number of ballots issued," Wright said. "When all those have come in, we will do a total."

There will, however, be an announcement about the results of early voting, he said.

That's been widely seen as a prediction of results since voters from all across the county can vote early in Lewisburg.

Early voting ends at noon on Saturday in the Hardison Office Annex at the county election commission office. When more people vote early, the prediction is seen as more accurate.

Years ago, results from early balloting were delayed because officials "would have to count ballots by hand and it would be midnight before they were through," Wright said.