Clerk’s office gears up for Election Day

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 31, 2012 02:42 pm

Union County Deputy Clerk Lisa Feik runs test ballots through the ballot counter Tuesday to make sure the machine is in good working order. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH - The Observer
Union County Deputy Clerk Lisa Feik runs test ballots through the ballot counter Tuesday to make sure the machine is in good working order. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH - The Observer

The Union County Clerk’s Office feels more than ready for the Nov. 6 general election, now that everybody knows the ballot counting machine is in tip-top shape.

Tuesday, Deputy Clerk Lisa Feik took the Elections Systems and Software Model 650 through its paces, running “test decks” of ballots, including some deliberately marked with overvotes and undervotes. 

A deck of 25 ballots went through faster than a human thought. A printer to the right of the machine churned out a log of Feik’s every action, and a printer to the left gave a hard copy tally of the mock votes for myriad candidates and ballot measures. 

All the numbers added up, to no one’s surprise. But the test had to be done just the same. Nothing is left to chance.

“We do tests before the election, after the election and after the post-election ten-day waiting period,” Feik said. “It’s to make sure everything is matching up and working smoothly.”

The machine does a lot of the thinking for the clerk’s office, but not enough to take the human factor out of the equation. Office staff and a group of volunteers known as the Union County Election Board have a lot of work to do before the machine can do its thing, and even more to do on election night.

Ballots are picked up at drop sites twice a week, brought back to La Grande and added to those that come in by mail. Every signature on every gold-colored outer envelope is verified by staff.

Ballots without the signature can’t be counted, and neither can those that arrive in the secrecy envelope rather than the “goldenrod.” In those cases the clerk’s office sends out a postcard notifying the voter to come in and rectify the problem.

Once the signatures are verified, a certification board sorts the ballots by precinct. Ballot opening starts a week before election day, though the counting won’t begin until the morning of the 6th.

Before the ballots go to the machine, they’re flattened out and checked for anything that might keep them from going through. A ballot that is torn or crinkled or gotten wet won’t work. For those that have been damaged in some way, the clerk’s office is authorized to make a duplicate, one that’s verified, certified and marked with a special stamp.

The optical scan ballots used by Union County should be marked exactly as the instructions say, with the voter darkening the oval to the left of a candidate of choice and indicating “yes” or “no” for each measure. People don’t always do that, though. Sometimes they use check marks, or a little dot, or some other mark the machine can’t read.

In those cases, a two-person team, one from each of the major parties, determines the voter’s intent and then enhances the mark so it can be read by the machine.

Union County Clerk Robin Church said ballots for the upcoming general election had been coming in a trickle after they were mailed Oct. 19, but the trickle became a surge Tuesday when the office received 1,500 ballots.

As of Wednesday morning, 32.1 percent of Union County voters had sent their ballots in. Church said she expects the number will continue to increase.

“I think because it’s a general election, people are holding on to their ballots longer,” she said.

She said she’s confident her team, humans and machines alike, are up to the task.

“The system works well, and keeps a tight count.”