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Posted: November 13, 2012 8:13 p.m.

Explaining a confusing election night

Election night was a confusing ordeal locally as those watching the results come in at the Newton County Board of Elections got conflicting reports about which votes had been counted so far, how many precincts were reporting and what was left to tally.

The confusion and later than normal night - final results came in after 11:30 p.m., when they're normally in between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. - were a combination of yet another new reporting system implemented by the Georgia Secretary of State, a larger number of military ballots and mail-in absentee ballots and technical issues at two precincts.

Given the hectic nature of the night, election officials weren't able to recreate the night exactly, but they did describe the general process, which should be used for all future elections, barring any further changes from the state.

Watch the election from home

First and most importantly for anyone watching future elections, all ballots are uploaded directly to the secretary of state, which then publishes those numbers on its website, sos.ga.gov.

Under prior reporting systems, voters would be able to see the numbers first by visiting the Newton County Board of Elections in person and watching the numbers be posted on a local computer system that displayed them on a screen set up across from the elections office. Now that screen simply displays the secretary of state's website and local voters don't get advanced notice from the rest of the state.

However, because of the way votes are uploaded, it is sometimes impossible to know how many precincts are reporting just by viewing the secretary of state's website. That's why some people go to the board of elections and why The Covington News stations a person physically at the board; that person on scene can ask how many precincts have been uploaded and find out if any technical difficulties or other issues have come up.

The reason the state's website isn't clear in some cases is because once early votes are uploaded the state's website will say 22 out of 22 precincts partially reporting, since early voters come from all precincts. However, even once precincts were uploaded Tuesday, the state's site still didn't reflect how many precincts had been uploaded, so viewers never had a clear idea throughout the night as to how many votes were left to be counted.

Absentee ballots, which were uploaded last, also come from all precincts, so it's unclear if these also hold up the process.


What happened Tuesday

Elections supervisor Donna Morrison said the state requires counties to upload voting results at least three times during election night.

The first set of numbers uploaded Tuesday was the in-person early voting ballots. Officials weren't sure what time those were uploaded, but the first ballots weren't posted to the secretary of state's website until 8:30 p.m. Morrison said there is a delay from when the secretary of state receives the vote totals to when they post them to their site.

The second set of numbers wasn't posted until quite a bit later in the evening when the majority of precincts had reported. The secretary of state's office called the local board of elections at one point to see if any precinct numbers could be uploaded before the final precinct count came in, Morrison said.

Board of elections member Bill Perugino said he would push in future elections for the department to get more precincts uploaded to the state as soon as they come in. He said he didn't realize votes weren't being uploaded right away until the call from secretary of state's office came in.

During the night, officials would give conflicting reports, at first saying all early votes and absentee ballots had been uploaded and then saying only precincts had been uploaded, neither of which turned out to be true.

The final set of numbers to be uploaded included the remaining precincts, as well as absentee mail and military ballots. All military ballots and some of the mailed-in absentee ballots (those that were wrinkled or folded) had to be manually duplicated onto a ballot that could then be scanned in. The office had around 47 or 48 military ballots and around 1,700 mailed-in absentee ballots, according to election officials.

Finally, there were issues at both the Mansfield and the Downs precincts that required Perugino to go out and close out the voting machines properly. He didn't get sent out to Downs, which had long voting lines, until 8:30 p.m.


Final results
Morrison said the county had 14 provisional ballots, which are those cast by voters that don't have proper ID at the time they vote. Only five of the voters came back with proper ID within the three-day limit.

The final, official voter turnout was 74.97 percent, as 43,435 out of 57,939 registered voters cast ballots. The final 2008 turnout was 76.33 percent (41,582 total votes).

 

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