May 21, 2024

Missing absentee ballots, tabulator breakdown delays election results

Jasper County Auditor asks for administrative recount of nearly 11,000 absentee ballots

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It wouldn’t be 2020 without some kind of Election Day hiccup, right?

Well, in Jasper County, the problem may be considered somewhat minor — in fact, it will have no bearing on election results — but the folks at the auditor’s office are still treating the matter seriously. They want to get it right, Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott said.

On election night, members of the bipartisan absentee ballot board noticed they were 10 absentee ballots short of what they ought to have.

Unsure if the machine accidentally took a few ballots “two at a time” or if some were still sealed in their envelopes, Parrott and Jasper County Deputy Auditor Tina Mulgrew decided to try a two-phase method of correcting the error.

“We were going to run all the ballots through again in case it was a mechanical error or whatever. And then the rest of the team was going to start going through the envelopes again,” Parrott said. “They started running it, and the machine broke down about halfway through, about 5,000 (ballots) through.”

The scanning and tabulating machine jammed and began to tear the ballots. Mulgrew noted the auditor’s office does have extra ballot stock. If a ballot is mangled beyond recognition in the machine, two election workers would be ordered to re-mark a fresh ballot according to the damaged one’s votes.

“We’ve got plenty of observers watching that process,” Mulgrew said. “It’s all done out in the open.”

A technician was onsite to assist the ballot jam, but the machine could not be fixed at that time. Luckily, auditors had saved the results compiled from the first run-through, allowing them to be posted on their elections webpage — albeit much later than they were initially expecting.

“Jesus saves,” Mulgrew said.

Parrott added, “And so does Tina.”

But as a result, the county auditor’s office will ask the supervisors on Thursday, Nov. 5, to approve an administrative recount of the 10,915 absentee ballots.

Parrott has no doubt the county board of supervisors will grant the recount.

“They’re going to want to get it right as well,” he said.

Since the tabulator had broken down, the absentee board members instead searched for the missing absentee ballots by hand. Mulgrew said seven of the 10 ballots had been found by Wednesday. Parrott noted these particular ballots had not been taken out of their envelopes.

“They got about a quarter of those envelopes still to go through, so it’s possible they find the rest of them in those envelopes, and it’s possible they may not,” Parrot said, adding that he expects the machine will be fixed before the supervisors meet to take action on the administrative recount.

“We’ll start that process of running the ballots again through the machine.”

Because so few absentee ballots had gone missing, Mulgrew said the recount will not likely change the outcomes of races. More so, this issue only really affected the timing in which the auditor’s office could release its unofficial results, which still have to be canvassed by the county board of supervisors next week.

“Things similar to this happen in a lot of elections — even that we’ve had,” Parrott said. “We decided we’re going to find these ballots or give it one helluva try. If the machine wouldn’t have broke, this wouldn’t have gotten this far. We would have had them all go through last night.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or