Virginia Vote Counters: No Winners on Election Night

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As November 3rd draws closer, general registrars and their staff in central Virginia are working extremely hard to get as many ballots counted as possible on election night, even though the results will not be official until Friday of that week.

On Monday, The Virginia Star spoke with registrars from Henrico, Hanover, New Kent and Goochland counties, and discussed the timing of ballot counts.

In what has been a whirlwind of an election season in the Commonwealth, with newly-implemented state laws and the coronavirus pandemic causing a historic amount of absentee voting, those registrars are confident in their ability to get the majority of ballots in on election night and provide a solid unofficial count.

Election officials have provided guidance to registrars for counting on election night, simply telling them to go until they’re done or until 11 p.m., Henrico County deputy registrar Anne Marie Middlesworth said.

Teresa Smithson, Hanover County general registrar, believes that her office will be able to count nearly all of the ballots by the first day.

“I would say that we will have probably a 90 to 95 percent results rate on election night, I think that the late absentee [ballot] element is going to be a small number,” Smithson said in an interview with The Star. “We’ve had pre-processing underway since the week following the launch of the absentee ballots on September 18th and we’ve pre-processed over 6,280 ballots.”

New Kent County general registrar, Karen Bartlett, issued the same prediction but did not offer any percentages.

“The majority of the ballots will be counted on election night because most of them will be coming in from the precincts or the central absentee precinct,” Bartlett told The Star.

No matter how many ballots are counted on November 3rd, new election laws put into place by the General Assembly during its January session allow absentee ballots to be accepted for an additional three days, pushing back when official results will be released.

“The official results cannot be released until after the election is certified. Typically, elections could be certified at the local level the next day,” Ryan Mulligan, Goochland County general registrar said. “That is if you did not have any outstanding No ID provisional ballots as voters had until 3 days later to produce a copy of their ID.

“Now, we cannot certify the election until after noon on the Friday following the Election as any Absentee Ballots received by mail before then and postmarked on or before election day must be counted and included.”

The number of ballots that registrars must count between Wednesday morning and noon on Friday varies between the different counties because of several factors that come into play such as the number of provisional ballots remaining.

Bartlett, who said she and her staff have been working seven-days a week and twelve-hours a day, is hoping for less than 20 ballots needing to be counted during those days, while Mulligan estimated a few hundred for his office.

“I would ask [voters] to be patient,” Smithson said. “This is a new process that the General Assembly passed down and we’re trying to adjust to it. I can tell you that general registrars across the Commonwealth are dedicated to making sure that every single is counted. Doing that is going to take some time.”

As of October 1st, there were 5,896,141 registered voters in Virginia; Henrico had 234,384, Hanover had 83,416, Goochland had 19,806 and New Kent had 17,262, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

But, with the original voter registration deadline of October 13th being extended two days by a judge after a fiber cable was inadvertently cut causing the system to experience outages, there are likely tens of thousands more registered Virginians.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, early voting as of Sunday in those four counties is as follows:

In Hanover, there have been 27,530 early ballots cast and absentee applications, a little more than seven thousand of that by mail, compared to just 5,746 total absentee ballots in the 2016 election.

Henrico has seen 86, 376 early ballots submitted and absentee applications, 25,603 of those by mail, compared to 16,955 total absentee ballots in 2016.

In Goochland there have been 6,482 early ballots and absentee applications, compared to 1,559 total absentee ballots in 2016.

Lastly, New Kent has had 4,082 early ballots and absentee applications, compared to just 1,005 total absentee ballots in 2016.

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Ballot Counting” by Fairfax County CC BY-ND 2.0.

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