Shelby County has a voice, and our voters proved that in a big way on Nov. 8. A full 89.33 percent of the registered voters in Shelby County came out to cast their votes, either early or on Election Day. Congratulations Shelby County!
Hats also off to our 140 plus precinct election officials who completed their all day task professionally, accurately, and in record time. Once the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, precinct election officials powered down their voting machines, gathered and secured all ballots, printed reports, posted those results to the door of each of 18 polling locations, then raced to the Board of Elections office to physically deliver individual election results. Returns began arriving at 8:06 p.m. The final ‘unofficial canvass’ of nearly 24,000 ballots from 35 precincts was made public at 9:09 p.m.
As is true with any large public event or even a family Thanksgiving celebration, once the guests have left, there is always clean up to do. In the election administration business we call that clean up the ‘official canvass,’ which terminates in the certification of the election results. Your Shelby County Board of Elections certified this election on Monday, Nov. 21 at their regular public meeting.
In preparation for the official canvass, Board of Elections employees reviewed sealed provisional ballot envelopes to determine if provisional voters were indeed eligible to vote in Shelby County. In Ohio we never deny a person the ability to vote even if their eligibility is in dispute. If eligibility is in dispute, these persons are allowed to vote, however their ballots are sealed in a secure provisional envelope until eligibility is determined. There are a number of common examples why a voter would be required to vote a provisional ballot at the polling place, then, ultimately have their ballot counted during the Official Canvass. Those include, the voter not being registered in Shelby County but registered elsewhere in Ohio and did not already vote where they were registered; the voter requested an absentee ballot, did not vote absentee but shows up at the polls on Election Day; and finally, the voter arrives at the correct polling location but votes in the wrong precinct.
Also considered during the official canvass were absentee ballots. While all received and eligible absentee ballots are included in the unofficial canvass on Election Day, there are always absentee ballots in transit within the postal system which may be eligible to be counted. These include ballots cast from eligible military and overseas voters. Absentee ballots can be post marked the day before Election Day and still be counted as long as they arrive at the Board of Election office within 10 days after Election Day.
One final group of ballots considered by your Board of Elections members during the official canvass were absentee and provisional ballots cast by eligible voters, but, their ballot was torn, defaced or mutilated making votes unreadable by the voting equipment. Those ballots were remade by hand in public session by teams of Democrat and Republican Board Members. Once remade, those ballots were scanned and added to the official canvass count.
At the end of this elongated process, your Shelby County Board of Elections members added 508 provisional ballots and 81 additional absentee ballots to the unofficial canvass of Nov. 8. Herein lay the reasons why vote counts and races can, and do change between Election Day and the official canvass. But wait, there’s more!
Once the election is certified, Board of Election members are required to scan the results to determine if a mandatory recount of any race is required. A Board of Elections must order an automatic recount for any county, municipal, township, or school district race, or local question, or issue election wholly contained within the county when the difference between votes cast for a declared winning nominee, candidate, question or issue, and a declared losing nominee, candidate, question or issue is equal to or less than one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the candidate contest, question, or issue. While no local race met that required recount threshold in this Shelby County election, a candidate or group of voters for or against a question or issue has five days to file and compel a Board of Elections to recount a local race.
Yes, recounts can lead to vote counts changing even after the official canvass has been completed and certified. In razor close elections, this is the very scenario which gives election officials grey hair and causes the public to wrinkle their noses. So how is this possible? The reasons lay within two givens. First, Ohio law requires every registered voter to have every opportunity to be heard, and second, not every voter follows instructions when marking their ballot. In Shelby County the instructions on each ballot require the voter to darken in the oval beside their chosen candidate, local question, or issue. When a voter ‘circles’ the oval, or puts a ‘checkmark’ or ‘X’ beside the oval, the scanner may not read that mark. In elections with clear results, those voter missteps are of a lesser consequence. However, (and here is the take home message), when a recount is performed, elections officials are obligated to put their hands and eyes on each ballot. At that point the Ohio Revised Code requires that, if possible, the Board of Election members determine voter intent even if the voter failed to follow instructions. As each non standard marked ballot is considered during a recount by Board of Elections members, the vote totals can remain in a constant state of flux ending in yet another result. Oh joy!
The writer is chairperson of the Shelby County Board of Elections and serves with members Merrill Asher, Jon Baker, and Chuck Craynon.