A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Christina Conover: Here’s how your absentee ballot gets counted — and how you can be confidant with a mail-in option

As we draw closer to the 2020 general election, one non-partisan concern is: Did my vote really count?

This concern was brought to light under Kentucky’s emergency regulations that permitted no-excuse mail-in absentee voting in the 2020 Primary. This change in the manner of the election, which gave voters the mail-in option, resulted in unprecedented turnout.

Many people in Kenton County (where we live) and in every state in our nation are working hard to ensure that the upcoming election is fair and that we are able to get the vote out like never before. For those who are concerned about the ballot-scanning process, rest assured that so long as you follow the instructions you receive with the delivery of your ballot, your ballot is counted. This is especially relevant with the likelihood that mail-in voting will be the norm for the election in November.

Christina Conover

Under the emergency regulations, each county Board of Elections was permitted to create a ballot review team to help with the volume of ballots. In Kenton County, the ballot review team varied from six to eight people, with affiliations from both political parties, and included the two party representatives to the county Board of Elections. The Ballot Review Team processed between 1,700 and 2,600 ballots on any given day.

Even though the ballot review team was a new creation under the emergency regulations, the criteria for reviewing the ballots remained the same as always, based on the statutes in KRS 117.086 and 117.087.

Once ballots are received at the clerk’s office by mail or returned in the approved drop boxes, they undergo a meticulous process. There is a barcode on the envelope that is scanned so that the voter returning the ballot is given credit for voting in that particular election. After being scanned into the system, the ballots are given to the Ballot Review Team.

Each reviewer is given a bundle of returned white envelopes, which should contain the yellow privacy envelope that should contain the ballot. These bundles are counted several times throughout the process to ensure that all ballots are properly accounted for.

Once the bundle has been counted, the reviewer verifies that the voter has signed the outside of the white envelope. If they did not, their ballot is rejected and set aside. If the reviewer has questions about whether a ballot should be rejected or accepted, it is placed aside for the Board of Elections to review. Any ballots that are rejected are documented with the reason for rejection.

The next step of the process is to verify that all parts of the inner yellow envelope are properly completed. The flap on the yellow envelope must be signed by the voter, the flap must be attached, and the ballot must be sealed inside the yellow envelope. If any of these are not done, the ballot will be rejected. However, in Kenton County, the Board of Elections voted to accept ballots that show substantial compliance, e.g., the voter signed the yellow envelope, but on the wrong line, the flap was detached but inside the white envelope, the ballot is inside the yellow envelope but the yellow envelope is not sealed. Again, if the reviewer has any questions about whether a ballot should be rejected or accepted, it is placed aside for the Board of Elections to review.

The reviewer then removes the flap from the yellow envelopes so that the ballots inside no longer contain any evidence of the voter who submitted the ballot, thus preserving the integrity of the secret ballot. The yellow envelopes are then opened, all ballots are counted to ensure that all ballots that were not rejected have been accounted for, and they are then scanned into the E-scan machine, just like you would do with your paper ballot if you voted in person on Election Day.

The bottom line: The process for counting votes is methodical and relies upon the Review Team members’ attention to detail. As a voter, it is important to remember that the attention to detail displayed by the team members who work counting your votes is the very same attention to detail you should display when you are voting by mail. Read and follow the directions that accompany your ballot. If you do your part, the team members at the boards of election can do theirs. Make your vote count.

Finally, the boards of election will likely need poll workers for the November election. Check with your local Board of Elections to sign up.

Christina Conover is a retired teacher. She lives in Northern Kentucky. She collaborated with Faith Wolking Kemper, Sara Robinson and Gabrielle Summe to write this commentary.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment