Handling a record 25,000 absentee ballots slowed the vote-counting process in Pulaski County, but it is nearing an end this morning.
Last night, the commission approved counting of 1,125 absentee ballots that had been set aside election night because of questions about whether they’d satisfied ID requirements and whether information matched up.
The process last night was not seamless. The Commission learned from Election Director Bryan Poe that 327 absentee ballots that had been disqualified had been included with absentee ballots added to unofficial totals earlier this week. At this point, there’s no way to retrieve those ballots because the ballots themselves lack identifiers. Poe said he believed those ballots didn’t affect election outcomes, which drew skeptical remarks from commissioners. It is impossible to say with any certainty. What we do know is that the addition of absentee ballots did not change the leaders in any of the races as reported before the batch of absentees was added.
How did it happen? When absentees set aside election night for lack of photo ID, they were later reviewed for the alternate signature verification and to be sure information on the absentee ballot request matched the information submitted with the ballot. More than 1,800 were approved, but 327 ballots were disqualified for various reasons, such as the wrong ZIP code. None was a fraudulent ballot. Ballots went only to registered voters.
The problem was the disqualified ballots were placed in a box marked for ballots that had the alternative signature. The problem was discovered when the votes were tallied and the total exceeded the number expected. A letter from Poe explains:
The issue could become critical as counting is completed because there are two tight state legislative races. In the House District 32 race, incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Sorvillo is currently leading Democrat Ashley Hudson by 44 votes. In the District 38 race, incumbent Republican Rep. Carlton Wing is leading Democrat Matthew Stallings by 55 votes.
The additions of absentee ballots had narrowed those margins slightly. There’s simply no way to know how the ballots were distributed across the 137 county precincts. The invalid ballots amount to about two-tenths of one percent of the almost 170,000 votes cast in the county. About 16,600 votes were cast in the District 32 race and 14,000 in District 38.
Here’s some idea of how the 2,200 absentees, including the 327 invalid ballots, affected those races. Before they were added, Sorvillo led Hudson 8,218-8,153. After, the tally was 8,337-8,293. So the 2,200 absentees, of which about 15 percent were invalid, added 259 votes to that race and narrowed the margin by 21 votes.
In District 38, Wing led 6,950-6,864, or by 86 votes. After the added ballots, the margin narrowed to 51, 7,048-6,993. So 217 of the 2,200 absentees were cast in this race and narrowed the margin by 35
So what’s left? Fewer ballots from largely a different source.
1,108 ballots cast provisionally in person were approved last night as having been verified as registered voters. Another 1,340 provisional ballots were rejected by the county clerk’s office.
229 in-person provisional ballots are undergoing further review today and the clerk is to report on registrations for those.
115 absentee ballots had to be “remade” because they were unreadable by the scanner.
So at least 1,223 ballots will be added today, along with some from the 229 getting a further review. The Commission also has about 50 ballots with issues the staff couldn’t resolve to consider and perhaps the arrival of overseas and military ballots.
In terms of the contested races, it’s worth noting that most of the votes to come were cast in-person. The Republican candidates led in-person voting while the Democrats led in absentee voting.
Expect an outcry from Republicans if the last votes should change the results in the two legislative races. Though Democrats could argue they perhaps were penalized by the invalidated ballots, too.
The Republican Party had tried earlier to segregate ballots in those two races and Election Commission Chairman Evelyn Gomez tried to unilaterally stop the process 12 hours after the commission had voted unanimously for counting of the absentees. By the time of these developments, the ballots had begun being separated from identifying voter statements. Poe said he finally determined the source of the error Tuesday night. Wednesday was a holiday. Commissioners criticized Poe for not informing them earlier of the problem.
The commission meets this afternoon at 5 p.m. It could certify the vote today, but likely won’t because of the possibility that a candidate might ask for a recount. That won’t solve the invalid ballot question. Perhaps Donald Trump has some lawyers to spare.