What Happens at a Post-Election Ballot Canvass?
Especially after this year’s general election, we are hearing more and more about election canvasses every time we turn on the TV news. Ever wonder what a canvass of an election actually involves? Well, on Monday, November 9th, the Pocahontas County Commission conducted their required canvass of the county’s November 3rd election, and we were there, so now you will know how they work.
The special meeting began at 9:00 a.m. and the County Commissioners and other election officials became “Ballot Commissioners” by taking an oath to do the canvass in an honest and accurate way.
County Clerk, Melissa Bennett then asked Commissioner Helmick to draw a token out of a bowl. The bowl contained fifteen tokens, each marked with one of the fifteen county voting precinct numbers. Helmick drew the token for the 23rd Precinct -Huntersville. Drawing that token meant that the 23rd Precinct became the one precinct where every voter’s ballot selections were read aloud by Commissioner Helmick. That included each of the voter’s selections of candidates for the sixteen offices on the ballot – from President of the United States to County Surveyor. As these were read, two other “Ballot Commissioners”, one Republican and one Democrat, recorded the vote selections in separate booklets.
Verbally reading off hundreds of ballots was not a quick process, taking from shortly after 9:00 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m., minus an hour lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. Watching it, as one fellow observer, Norman Alderman, remarked, was “like watching paint dry.”
In the end, the numbers recorded in the booklets only differed from the machine count by about one vote per candidate for the entire precinct. This minor discrepancy was attributed to the likelihood that one ballot was accidently read twice. Since it was less than the one percent margin of error allowed by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, there was no need to repeat this four and a half (4 ½) hour process.
The next step involved inspecting the ballots from the other fourteen precincts, counting the number of ballots cast and comparing that number with the number of ballot stubs and with the number of ballots cast as recorded by the precinct officials.
They then read the explanations written by precinct officials on each sealed “provisional” ballot. The County commissioners then voted whether to accept the provisional ballot or reject it, in accordance with guidelines provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. If accepted, the sealed approved provisional ballots were laid aside to be unsealed and run through a voter machine at the end of the day.
Altogether there were fifty-three (53) provisional ballots in the county, with twenty-five (25) being allowed and twenty-eight (28) being disqualified. The most common reasons for disallowing them were that the voter was not properly registered or voted in the wrong precinct. Typical reasons for allowing the vote to count was that the voter was a poll worker assigned to a precinct that was not their own voting precinct, or a voter had moved from one precinct to another but were properly voting in their new precinct. One approved provisional ballot involved a military ballot where the voter had not registered to vote by the county deadline, but did register by the military’s registration deadline.
They also qualified five (5) absentee ballots which had arrived in the mail after election day but were postmarked on or before election day, and those were also run through the voting machine.
Once all these new votes were fed through the voting machine in the office, new and now official totals were tabulated. The new numbers did not change the results of any of the races from those announced on election day.
In all, including absentee, early, election day and accepted provisional votes, there were four-thousand and fifty-nine (4,059) ballots cast, which is an incredible 71.59% of the registered voters in Pocahontas County.
After observing this process, which by-the-way, didn’t end until 7:22 that evening, and the professionalism with which it was conducted, it is safe to say that citizens in Pocahontas County can be assured that the election was fair, accurately reported and that there was no opportunity for anyone to tamper with the results.