SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Election workers began sorting and checking mail-in ballots in Greene County on Thursday.
In Missouri, mail-in ballots can start being processed five days before the election, although no tallying can take place until Election Day.
Election Workers set up in the University Plaza Convention Center to start the sorting process. Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller says staff will be alphabetizing and inspecting the envelopes to ensure all ballots have been signed and notarized correctly.
“Today, we’re alphabetizing all the absentee and mail-in ballots that have been received back, and that allows us to go through an audit them to make sure that the notary seal and signature is there, that the voter has signed it properly, then after all that has been checked, we then begin to open the envelope and sort the ballot from the envelope itself, and that will likely take place tomorrow. That is the preparation process for us to be ready for Election Day when we can begin to tabulate them,” says Schoeller.
On Friday, Schoeller says workers will begin opening the envelopes and sorting them into batches.
“I think we’re in a good place today, our teams have been working very well, but that’s why we have the full five days, so we think we have plenty of time to be able to prepare so we are able to tabulate on Election Day,” he says.
Those batches will then be transported back to the Election Center in Springfield, where they will be put through a high-speed scanner to be tabulated on Election Day.
“Everything you see here is going to be transported back and forth; we won’t leave any voter’s envelope here, it’s going to be taken back to a safe and secure room that’s under security and camera both,” says Schoeller.
“We’re planning to start early in the morning, about 8:00, and go all the way throughout the day to make sure we have plenty of time because as the high-speed scanner is running, sometimes the ballot doesn’t read and you have to put it back through to make sure it’s read correctly. That’s normal because of the high-speed process.”
As far as tabulating ballots cast in-person on Election Day, Schoeller says polling machines are not connected to the internet or WiFi and only record ballots onto a memory stick. When the last person at each polling location has cast their ballot, the ballots and memory stick will be brought back to a secured room at the Election Center to be tabulated.
Schoeller says some of the first Election Day results will be from mail-in and absentee ballots, not from votes submitted at polling locations.
“They’ll be prepared into batches, and those batches will be run through a high-speed counter, and then we’ll have teams there on hand to be able to do that so it flows throughout the day so that, hopefully, if everything goes well, no equipment issues or anything, those will be some of the first results that we post that night.”
Here are some questions we asked Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller today:
Is it too late to mail back my ballot?
Yes, but you still have options. Schoeller says if you haven’t mailed back your mail-in ballot already, don’t. However, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to vote on or before Election Day.
Option 1: Bring your mail-in ballot into your polling location on Election Day and tell the poll worker you would like to surrender that ballot. After ensuring the Clerk’s Office has not already received a ballot from you, poll workers can issue you a new ballot to fill out on-site.
Option 2: If you can’t make it to the polls on Election Day, and qualify for one of the seven reasons to vote absentee, bring your mail-in ballot to the Election Center and tell the poll worker you would like to surrender that ballot. After ensuring the Clerk’s Office has not already received a ballot from you, poll workers can then issue you an absentee ballot to fill out on-site.
What if I lost my mail-in ballot?
Schoeller says if you have already received a mail-in or absentee ballot, but misplaced it before getting it back to the clerk’s office, you must tell poll workers at the Election Center, or your designated polling location, and they will have you sign an affidavit saying you are surrendering that ballot.
After ensuring the Clerk’s Office has not already received a ballot from you, poll workers can then issue you a new ballot to fill out on-site.
What issues will you be looking for on Election Day?
Schoeller says any issues that may pop up on Election Day typically have to do with how the equipment at polling locations are functioning.
“We’ve pre-tested all of the equipment, but sometimes in the transportation of that equipment, even just a good bump can throw those scanners off. Sometimes in that first part of the morning, we will get a phone call, “Hey, this is not scanning correctly,” so then we have additional scanner heads that we take to the polling locations and trade that out so they can continue to feed those ballots into the equipment.”
What would trigger a recount on Election Day?
Schoeller says any candidate race or ballot measures that have a margin of less than 1/2 of 1% automatically triggers a recount. For example, if Amendment 3 results come back 49.5% Yes, and 50% No, a recount would be conducted.
Candidates may also request a recount when the margin is less than 1%, but it is not automatic.
Schoeller says if a recount is prompted, it allows the Clerk’s Office to check each machine was tabulating correctly, “Because sometimes, for example, voters will circle a name, they won’t fill in the oval, so that can change the margin when you do a hand recount because the machine would not pick up the circling of the name, but we would clearly know the intent of the voter.”
Lastly, Schoeller says he expects a higher than usual turnout by voters, whether at the polls or those who have voted mail-in or absentee.
“We’re anticipating no less than 75%, we think we’re going to edge closer to 80%….but I think we can see here in our community, in our county, and across the state and nationally, there’s a great amount of interest in this election.”