What Happens During A County Board Of Elections Meeting? Take A Look At Cabarrus County's
If you’re an elections aficionado, then a county elections board meeting is your happy place. If you have no interest in the nitty-gritty of elections, you should. And here’s why.
The processing of votes is a time-consuming process that usually goes smoothly, but that’s not a given.
Case in point: The Cabarrus County elections board meeting on Tuesday.
Board members ran into a hiccup. The nightly total of ballots workers had scanned with the tabulator did not add up to the 1,198 ballots the board had when it started. The machine was short 10 ballots. Somewhere in the room there were 10 ballots that hadn’t been tabulated.
No board member or staff could leave until they were found.
All this happened two hours into the meeting.
“We reconcile everything,” said Cabarrus County Elections Director Carol Soles. “We need to make sure that every ballot that is returned by an eligible voter is tabulated.”
In news articles, political leaders and activists have been pleading with the public to register and vote to “make your vote count.”
County elections board members are the people who check the ballots, and do the counting.
“I’m sure it is boring to someone watching,” Soles said. “Even for those of us doing the work it is tedious, but we must make sure everything is accounted for.”
Absentee ballots have been arriving at elections offices in counties across the state. Some boards meet more than once a week to check and tabulate ballots. Tuesday’s elections board meeting in Cabarrus County went more than two hours.
As is the case with most county meetings, people can address the board if they give advance notice.
Philip Morgan did just that. He told board members he wanted to plead his case after someone accused him of being aggressive while handing out pamphlets with information about Republican candidates to voters arriving at Cabarrus Arena and Events Center to cast their ballots.
“I was told not to come back,” Morgan said. “If I stayed I was going to be arrested because I have four complaints.”
Elections board chairman Martin Ericson and Soles, the elections director, declined to answer WFAE’s questions about Morgan’s case. Morgan left the meeting after he spoke. He used his allotted three minutes to tell board members that he was simply doing his job, as he had done for different campaigns over the last 12 years.
“I’m a little bit faster than people that are out there so I’m able to go from one side to the other side to get people,” Morgan said. “When I see a car coming in, I’ll walk towards the car but I don’t go at the door. What I’m being accused of is I’m a little bit aggressive to them but I’m not.”
After the public comment period, it was time for the board to focus on the ballots.
Soles informed the board that as of 3:44 p.m Tuesday, 56,316 people had already voted in person in the first 13 days of early voting.
According to Soles, there are 149,549 registered voters in Cabarrus County.
Absentee ballots are at the heart of the meetings. The five elected members and a few of the elections staff started spot-checking absentee ballots five weeks before Election Day. They meet several days a week. During each meeting, they inspect ballots that have arrived since the last meeting.
Tuesday afternoon, 1,198 envelopes were before the board.
Ericson explained to WFAE that before envelopes come into the room, staff members check each return envelope to make sure it has the required information on it.
At the back of the return envelope, the voter’s signature must be there. The witness has to print his/her name, full address, and sign the envelope. If a voter needed assistance completing the ballot, the person who provided the assistance has to complete the section of the envelope for voter assistance certification by printing his/her name, full address, and signing the envelope.
“We rejected some that were missing the witness signatures because by law and court rulings those have to be spoiled, and new ballots sent out,” Ericson said.
Elections board meetings have their own language, such as “spoiled” or “cured.”
A returned absentee ballot without a witness signature is no good - it’s “spoiled.” Elections workers have to send the voter a new ballot.
If a voter didn’t sign the return envelope, or the witness didn’t print his/her name or didn’t put the full address - that ballot needs to be ‘cured.’
Elections staff sends a cure certificate, also known as an affidavit, to the voter who has to sign the certificate, and that cures the ballot.
Once tabulation starts, the room is quiet. No talking is allowed. Each person has a specific job.
“Opening the envelopes, taking the ballots out of the envelopes because they’ve already been approved,” Ericson explained. “We’re straightening them and we’re feeding them into a tabulator to be counted. The results of which are not going to be run until election night.”
Louis Lesesne says he’s a retired lawyer who volunteers as an observer for the North Carolina Democratic Party. He attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
“Just to ensure the integrity of the process,” Lesesne told WFAE. “Not that we think they’re going to do anything wrong. As far as I can tell they’ve done everything strictly by the book but we just want to observe the process and see if there are problems that come up, if there are things that people need to be aware of, or issues that need to be addressed.”
Of the 1,198 absentee ballots: 1,181 were from voters who live in Cabarrus County; 10 from servicemen and women away at military bases, and seven came from overseas.
Soles says military and overseas ballots are on a different stock of paper than what the tabulator machine recognizes. So a bipartisan team of two board members duplicates each military ballot so it is coded correctly on tabulator stock paper. This is to ensure the ballot is counted.
When all the envelopes are opened, and ballots tabulated - the nightly process is over.
But, board members had to clear a hurdle before Tuesday night’s meeting could adjourn.
The numbers weren’t adding up. They couldn’t account for 10 ballots. Elected officials and staff started double-checking their math, but they still kept coming up 10 ballots short.
A board member went through the empty envelopes that had been placed in a bin. He shook each stack of envelopes and found the 10 that still had ballots. Someone forgot to take out the ballots, and pass them on to the tabulation machine.
Soles says the attention to detail at the meetings may be boring to some, but she says that’s what makes the process work.
“The care that we take in reconciling and making sure everything comes out right hopefully dispels the claims of voter fraud and people’s votes not counting or getting thrown away,” Soles said.