Parties work to verify votes

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 9, 2007

NATCHEZ — Blue plastic bins with padlocks served as the centerpiece in the circuit courtroom as election workers verified paper ballots Wednesday.

The bins held affidavit ballots, used when a voter is not on the voting rolls at a precinct, and absentee ballots.

Members of the local Democratic Party committee went through the ballots, verifying they were filled out correctly.

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Candidates for offices that will likely face a runoff — such as tax collector, circuit clerk and supervisor — watched closely.

The Republican committee had an easier job Wednesday, with fewer ballots to certify. Most races were run on the Democratic ballot.

The Republicans started work at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and finished just before lunch, Committee Chair Sue Stedman said.

“Nothing changed significantly,” Stedman said. “Sammy (Cauthen, supervisor District 1) still came out the winner. He probably picked up a few votes, as a matter of fact.”

The state races didn’t change much, either, and followed the statewide trends, she said.

Each party must go through its respective box for each of the 20 precincts. So, although the Republicans only ran into roughly 30 absentee and affidavit ballots combined, it took several hours to go through all the boxes.

“We make sure voters (who voted absentee) didn’t come back to vote on Election Day,” Stedman said. “We check affidavits to make sure they’re eligible to vote in that precinct. Then, we total them up at the end.”

The Democrats had a bigger job, with an estimated 2,000 paper ballots to verify.

Workers alphabetized the ballots Wednesday morning and started tackling the job of certifying them Wednesday afternoon, Election Commission Chairman Larry Gardner said.

Gardner said it would probably be a few days before they finished and had results.

Verification is scheduled to resume this morning.

Tuesday’s initial election results were slow to come in because of several factors, he said. Most of the delays stemmed from the sheer volume of votes compared with the last, smaller, election.

The process of accumulation, or gathering results from each machine at the polls, tripped some poll workers up, he said.

“Also, we had a large number of affidavit ballots that workers had to confirm or reject at the polls,” Gardner said.

In addition, the computer at the courthouse that compiled all the results was sluggish, he said.

“That system is really slow,” Gardner said. “We used it last year, but there was not that much data.”

The system not only compiles numbers but makes a digital image from each voting card.

“Each card has hundreds of ballots on it,” Gardner said. “Images take a long time and a lot of data.”

The upcoming runoffs will probably run smoother because there will be fewer races and fewer voters, he said.