Complete election results take time, manpower

Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:48 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — From the ballot box to the election returns on the evening news, the responsibility of counting each Missourian’s vote will fall upon the state’s 114 county clerks and the office of the secre-tary of state.

Individual votes are counted at the county level, where ballots are collected from each polling place and taken to a central location, usually the courthouse or a county government center.

About a third of Missouri voting districts use punch-card ballots — the same ballots that made “hang-ing chads” notorious in 2000. Some counties employ chad teams to examine ballots.

In Cole County, vote counting is a three-step process. Ballots go through a receiving team that verifies where they came from and when, a chad team that checks for chad-related problems and, finally, to a punch-card tabulator that counts the votes.

Other Missouri voting districts, including Boone County, use optical scan ballots, which require voters to use black markers to fill in ovals reflecting their choices.

After counting all their votes, county officials phone results in to the secretary of state.

At that point, “it’s not a case of counting votes,” said Gayla Van-delicht, director of elections at the secretary of state’s office. “It’s simply a case of adding the totals together.”

Results are then posted on the secretary of state’s Web site.

Votes reported on election night are unofficial until certified by local and state election authorities. Each Missouri county has until Nov. 16 to certify their tallies.

“That gives them ample time, for one thing, to check the provisional votes,” Vandelicht said. “They have two weeks to check and see whether or not those people were qualified to vote.”

James O’Keefe, election director for St. Louis City, said certification involves “a thorough internal audit check.”

“What we try to do is zero out the elections and make sure the num-ber of ballots cast equal the number of ballots given,” he said.

After counties certify results, the state has two weeks to do its own certification.

“We convene the State Board of Canvassers,” Vandelicht said. “A canvasser is someone who comes in and has the right to look at the results that the counties have sent in. … They can check the results and make sure that we have tabu-lated the results correctly.”

After a four-week certification process, the winners are officially announced.

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