Too many ballots

Published 12:11 am Friday, August 17, 2007

NATCHEZ — Counting, verifying and adding up ballots took an unusually long time this election because of the number of votes cast and a new system, election officials said.

When Democratic Party workers started verifying ballots the day after primary elections, they found an unusual number of absentee ballots, Democratic Executive Committee member Beverly Merrill said.

“There were lots of ballots, especially absentee ballots — more than in the past,” Merrill said.

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A high voter turnout meant the workers had to wade through absentee ballots and affidavit ballots, or those used when a voter isn’t on the election rolls.

They had to make sure that person lived where he said he lived, didn’t vote at the polls, was qualified to vote and was who he said he was.

On top of the large number of ballots, some poll workers did not document absentee and affidavit ballots in the registration books as they should have, Merrill said. That meant more work for the counters, she said.

“I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and this is the longest it’s been,” she said.

Once the ballots were verified, it was up to the election commission to help tally the Election Day results with affidavit and absentee numbers.

That took longer than expected, too, Election Commission Chairman Larry Gardner said.

One bad memory card and several computer malfunctions later, the commission finally had totals for the entire election midnight Wednesday.

“(The time it took) had a lot to do with the new machine,” Gardner said. “Before, we were able to count up the absentee ballots at the polls that night. With this system, any paper ballot couldn’t be counted because we only had one scanner, here at the courthouse.”

They were expecting the legislature to approve a law to allow early voting, but that didn’t happen, he said.

“We were going through a learning phase,” Gardner said.

Questions from bystanders and candidates slowed things down, too, Gardner said.

“They were asking good, legitimate questions, and I have no problem with that,” he said. “But it does tend to slow the process down.”

Wednesday, the commission decided that after the technological problems they had experienced, they would save every step of the way, he said.

“We might have been overcautious, but we weren’t taking any chances,” he said.

This election’s experiences will likely speed up the runoffs, he said.

“I think it will be smoother for the workers and the voters,” Gardner said.

Runoffs are scheduled for Aug. 28.