Over the past week, Secretary of State Jon Husted has done a number of media interviews assuring voters that Ohio is a state where it is both easy to vote and hard to cheat. One of the people on the front lines of the secure election is Scioto County Board of Elections Director Julia Gearheart, who can lay out the set of secure checks and balances involved in tabulating your vote, in a heartbeat.
Everyone knows how to vote and that the polls close at 7:30 p.m., but what they may not know are the steps their ballot takes once the polls close and that ballot is in the hands of the poll workers.
“They have memory cards for optical scan machines which scans the ballot,” Gearheart said. “And they have a memory card for our touch screen. They also have the ballots themselves.”
Gearheart said the memory cards are placed in a vinyl bag, which is locked, and the vinyl bag is placed inside of a blue bag with the voted ballots and that bag is also locked. It is that bag that comes to the counter at the Board of Elections on election night.
“The girls at the counter (there’s always one Democrat and one Republican) check in one precinct at a time. They do a checklist of everything that is supposed to be in their bag,” Gearheart said. “The blue bag contains the voted ballots, a canister from the touch screen which is the cast ballot, like the paper version of the ballot, the vinyl bag which contains the memory card, any unscanned ballots that were not able to be scanned, such as – your ballot was torn. We have an envelope they put those in. Those are called unscanned ballots, and the soiled and defaced envelopes with the soiled and defaced ballots and the yellow canvas bag which is our provisional envelopes and our provisional ballots are inside those.”
The memory cards are brought back to the board and they are uploaded to their server, while the voted ballots get put into a vault which contains cubby holes for each precinct.
“If we have unscanned ballots, we have to take that memory card and we have to wait, and if we find something wrong with the ballot, like it’s ripped or something, we have to create another ballot. We print another ballot, and then the board members (one from each party) will get together and they will remake that ballot,” Gearheart said.
Once the USB has been uploaded to the server, it is taken to the Secretary of State computer and sent to that office. Once the USB is taken out of the server it can never be put back into the server. The server is never online.
What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about their vote?
“They say absentees don’t count,” Gearheart said. “They count first. Absentee ballots are always counted first. We have to report those to the Secretary of State by 7:45 (p.m.). No later. That’s our deadline. Then, every half hour after that we report our results to the Secretary of State.”
Gearheart said, with all the systems in place, it would be difficult to cheat on an election.
“We have two girls that come in, just on election night, to help us,” Gearheart said. “When we’ve run one precinct, we always check the total number of ballots.”
If any discrepancy occurs, they must stop the process and figure out what caused the problem and solve it before they move on.
Gearheart said 1,660 people had voted in the board office through Tuesday. They have mailed out 4,861 ballots. She said 32 people have come into the office and hand-carried their ballots, 189 nursing home residents have requested ballots.
“My biggest number that I have this year, which was very large, is my UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) voters, which is my military and my civilians overseas,” Gearheart said. “I have 82 UOCAVA voters this year. That’s very high for us.”
In 2012 counting provisionals and absentees, over 5,000 people voted in the board office. A provisional ballot is one belonging to someone who has not changed their address in the time of the deadline, or they have gotten married and changed their name, or someone has requested an absentee ballot and they didn’t get a ballot and decided not to do that, but instead, came in the board office and cast their ballot. They may also cast their ballot at the polls if they didn’t get their absentee ballot.
Provisional ballots are counted with the official count which is scheduled for 10 days after the election, Nov. 22, 2016 at 3 p.m. She said there is an audit each election year in which the Secretary of State’s Office designates two races to be audited and the board chooses another race to audit. Those ballots are hand-counted. They will count five percent of the entire county.
Gearheart praised the workers who work on election night.
“We have two part time workers that have been here for a very long time,” Gearheart said. “I wouldn’t know what to do without any of our part time workers. they are a Godsend to us.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.