Categories
Citizenship

Norfolk Elections Office Keeps on Keeping’ On

The wheels of government turn slowly but the do turn, Norfolk Elections Office assures me.

Dismal Wizard is a bit concerned because Norfolk has not logged in his returned mail ballot. The carrier picked it up on 22 September and local delivery is 2nd day or better. It only takes a minute to run the lot through the OCR to scan the outer smart mail code that ties the ballot to a poll book entry.

The wheels of government turn slow but they do turn, Norfolk, Virginia Elections Office assures me. The Registrar (head honcho) has not revealed to staff the office’s internal timeline for doing the work it needs to do. Speaking with a staffer, they are still responding to absentee ballot requests and have been holding returned ballots for envelope scanning until they are caught up with the requests. They expect they should be caught up in early October. They are deliberately holding the mail ballots until they have time to properly perform the quality processes that assure that they are all recorded. Everything happens under two person control using reader-worker procedures like those used in nuclear power.

References

  1. https://ballotpedia.org/When_states_can_begin_processing_and_counting_absentee/mail-in_ballots,_2020
  2. https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/calendars-schedules/

And in Virginia

Virginia law sets the following constraints for county elections offices

  • Hand counting of absentee ballots may begin at 3 PM on election day.
  • Machine counting of absentee ballots may begin as they are received but the tally must remain in the machine until the machines are canvased at the close of polls.

Norfolk machine counts everything using mail sorters and optical scanners. In practice, Norfolk must scan the envelopes before election day. This will happen before in person voting begins. This scanning process updates the poll book to record participation in the election. Later, the signature is verified against the application and the signature on file (usually your drivers license signature). Missing and poor quality signatures are reported to the voters at this point so they can correct the issue before early voting and absentee requests close.

Electorate behavior

Experience in the vote by mail states indicates that 1/3 of ballots are returned in the first week, 1/3 are returned on election day, and 1/3 come in between the two milestones. Norfolk staff are currently full time on responding to ballot requests with 2000 0r so in hand on 28 September. Once these are sent out, they expect to scan the returns that they have in hand. Later, they will open the envelopes (2 man control) and scan the ballots. They know better than to wait until 3 PM on election day. October 31 is the close of early voting so they’ll probably record the inventory ballot votes on that day. Totals remain in the machines until the polls close. Machines used for early in person voting and mail voting are set aside under seal and not used on election day.

Virginia 2020 Election Schedule

Virginia election statutes specify election milestones in detail. The 2020 election table appears in [2]. It is a multi-page spreadsheet having 253 entries (why the Elections Office staffer wouldn’t answer). Some of the milestones of interest to voters are below.

  • Last day to register to vote is 10/13
  • Last day to request absentee ballot by mail is 10/23
  • Last day to request absentee ballot in person is 10/31
  • Last day of early voting absentee ballots is 10/31
  • Last day to request a Mulligan absentee ballot is 10/31
  • Absentee ballots polls close on 11/06. Absentee ballots received after the election day poll close are counted on 11/07.
  • Election counting processes complete on 11/10
  • Election certificates sent to elected candidates on 11/11

City officials have 4 days in which to count absentee ballots and seven days in which to check, total, and certify the official results. The statutes don’t specify how the jurisdiction must schedule its internal work flow, just how local mechanics must match up to larger election mechanics. Other statutes establish verification and validation procedures. Part of these is the testing of machines with standard ballots prior to their use in an election.

Note that many expatriates, military personnel, and diplomatic personnel vote by mail from overseas. Mail ballots must be postmarked election day or before. The mail ballot close is set to allow these important groups to vote. National elections have about one million OCONUS participants.

Election Night Results

The election night results are unofficial and incomplete because they don’t include the mail ballots requested late in the election process. The city also has to verify the results to ensure that all machines have been read out and included in the total. The totals themselves have to be checked. Some elections are close and may swing back and forth as the last results are located and reported. In one case, the election was an actual tie broken by game of chance.

Election night results usually tell the tale because most elections are not so close that the outstanding mail ballots will change the result. It is reasonable to expect last minute mail ballots to have a vote distribution similar to the vote already cast as these last minute requests are driven by last minute schedule changes. This is not true with the early ballots which have historically had a Republican Party bias in many states.

Virginia Absentee Voting Law Changes

With the liberalization of Virginia election law, it is likely that those who have to work on election day will dominate the absentee and early voting. Lower wage occupations and child care logistics will drive this change. Many lower income voters were staying on the sidelines because they could not afford to give up a half-day of wages to vote. Similarly, many lower wage households had multiple jobs constraining the day job worker to take evening childcare while parter worked. The new Virginia mail and early voting changes will change Virginia election demographics. These new voters may well skew Democratic.

Our Beloved President

Don’t Vote By Mail

Our beloved President has been disparaging use of the absentee ballot process thinking that Democratic Party voters used it more heavily than Republican Party voters. In prior years, it was the other way around. Republican voters have been more likely to vote using absentee procedures. This is typically because older mobility limited voters were voting absentee and this demographic skewed Republican. This will be the case in Florida. Is he suppressing his own vote in a key small margin state?

Vote early and again on election day

At one time, our beloved President was advising Republicans to vote absentee and attempt to vote again on election day. This can be interpreted as a felonious act in several ways. In many jurisdictions soliciting multiple votes from an individual is a felony. In many jurisdictions, queuing of absentee voters in the election day queue can be taken as a voter suppression tactic because each person has to be looked up in the poll book and told to vote or leave. In many states (yes, you, Georgia), districts that are majority party out of power are deliberately under provisioned with election equipment and poll workers. This is a voter suppression tactic. The President’s double voting scheme would aggravate the problem. Simply make less voting resources available to those people.

Voter suppression schemes are illegal

The various schemes to challenge absentee balloting can also be taken as voter suppression schemes. The Republicans are doing this in plain sight. Let’s gum up the works by challenging all of the signatures! Clever. But we’ll only do it in minority Republican districts. Same thing with challenging all of the machine rejects were boxes were not completely filled.