Thousands of ballots are still being inspected for eligibility before they can be counted (or not) at the Pulaski County Election Commission. While we don’t have an exact number of how many uncounted ballots await inspection and possible tallying, we know it could be enough to make a difference in a few tight races.
So far, Election Commissioners have focused on the roughly 4,700 absentee ballots that were not counted on Election Day. Of those, more than 3,000 have gotten the green light and will be counted. Those 3,000+ ballots are not reflected in the current unofficial results. Efforts will be made to reach out to absentee voters whose ballots can be counted if they get a copy of valid ID to the Pulaski County Clerk by noon Monday.
Additionally, Pulaski County assistant director of elections Shawn Camp confirms thousands more in-person ballots are likely to be counted. Those include boxes and boxes of “provisional” ballots, both from absentee voters and people who voted in person either in early voting or on Election Day. These ballots were cast by people who did not have ID to present but who signed a statement attesting their identity, making their ballots valid. People who requested absentee ballots but ended up voting in person also fall into the “provisional” category. Poll workers will double check to make sure their absentee ballots never came in. Once that happens, their in-person votes can be tallied.
On Thursday, poll workers were fixing “remake” ballots that were folded or stained or couldn’t be read by the counting machine for some other reason. Roughly 1,200 of those were being counted and will be reflected on updated election results that could be posted as early as tonight. These ballots make up a big chunk of the 4,700 absentee ballots not counted on Election Day.
While we don’t yet have final results in hand, Pulaski Election Commissioners emphasize that what’s happening is not unexpected. They have 10 days from Election Day to finalize results.
Still, many voters are frustrated with they think was an unnecessary delay in inspecting the flood of absentee ballots this year. More than 25,000 Pulaski County voters sent ballots from home, and most of them were first-time absentee voters. Lots of those ballots arrived with no ID included, mistakes on voter statements and other issues that can put them out of play. Election workers with the Pulaski County Clerk’s office flagged those irregular ballots as they arrived, but Election Commissioners who have the authority to make the final call on whether ballots count or not did not begin considering the flagged ballots until Election Day. That’s standard procedure for them, but the sheer number of flagged ballots meant there was no way they could go through all of them on Nov. 3.
Election commissioners in other counties started combing through flagged absentee ballots up to two weeks before Election Day, as allowed by a special order from Governor Asa Hutchinson. In Union County, for example, Election Chair Janelle Williams began calling absentee voters who had failed to send IDs two weeks ago and asking them to bring their IDs down to the courthouse so their ballots could be counted.
We could have been significantly farther along in the counting process had Pulaski commissioners taken advantage of the special two-week canvas period Asa Hutchinson allowed this year to help deal with the unprecedented influx of absentee ballots, Arkansas election expert Susan Inman said.
“They were given the gift to begin the canvas process two weeks before the election,” Inman explained. “They could have been notifying absentee voters who forgot to include photocopied ID two weeks ago. It was an opportunity to be pre-emtive and prepared.”
Waiting until now means voters may not have time to fix their ballots. “That was an arrogant, ill thought out decision,” Inman said.
While we have some of the names of voters whose ballots can still be counted if they bring in ID, we don’t have all of them. And we don’t know exactly how many voters fall into this category. The window is closing fast, since those voters have to present their ID to the Pulaski County Clerk or the Pulaski Election Commission by Monday at noon.
Pulaski County election commissioners worked throughout the day Wednesday to go through “irregular” ballots that needed further inspection before they could be deemed eligible or not. Inman also took issue with their procedure, noting that they should have been working in groups of two. Instead, all three worked individually but at the same table, and regularly asked for each other’s opinions on issues like whether signatures matched or if certain forms of ID were acceptable.