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Elections officials: Nearby county’s uncounted votes scandal wouldn’t happen in Butler County

Published: Friday, January 25, 2019 @ 5:00 AM


            Butler County election officials say protocols ensure no valid vote received will go uncounted, unlike what happened in November 2018 in Miami County. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE (2018)
            Michael D. Pitman
Butler County election officials say protocols ensure no valid vote received will go uncounted, unlike what happened in November 2018 in Miami County. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE (2018)(Michael D. Pitman)

Miami County’s elections staff considered turning to Butler County to investigate why thousands of votes went uncounted in last November’s election because they use similar systems, but Butler County officials said the issue wouldn’t be duplicated in their county.

On Thursday, Ohio Secretary of State representatives were at the Miami County Board of Elections to investigate why 6,200 early votes were not counted before election results were certified. Secretary of State Frank LaRose called it a “failure” and “unacceptable,” adding that “Ohioans deserve better.”

That vote-counting fiasco in Miami County resulted in the elections director’s termination, but Butler County election officials say that wouldn’t happen in the seventh largest Ohio county because of protocols in place.

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RELATED: State election investigators in Miami County

“Throughout the early voting period and on Election Night, both systems are constantly balanced to make sure the number of votes issued matches the number of votes cast,” said elections Director Diane Noonan. “Both systems accurately provide precinct-level data which is compared to detect any discrepancies before reporting results.”

During the 28-day early voting period, election officials use voter registration and tabulation systems to guarantee accurate counts, said Noonan and elections Deputy Director Eric Corbin. The voter registration system maintains voter rolls and tracks early ballot requests while the tabulation system is “used to create, cast and count ballots,” they said.

That same process happens after the election, before the official results are certified.

“We strictly follow all Ohio Secretary of State directives, including post-election audit procedures to confirm that the sealed canisters containing the voter verified paper trails match the tabulated results,” said Corbin.

ANALYSIS: If Butler County turns purple, it won’t be anytime soon

Because of the protocols in place, the directors said they are confident they won’t miss any votes that should be counted as they prepare to spend millions of dollars — including $3.2 million in state funds — on a new voting system.

The county could have a proposal on a voting machine purchase ready for the Butler County Commission’s review as early as Monday. Most Ohio counties are pushing to purchase new systems to be used in November’s election. Butler County must have its new machines in their possession by July to test and customize machines to their protocols. If the board does not, it cannot purchase new machines until 2021.

Miami County Board of Elections reported the uncounted 6,200 votes did not change the results of any elections in the county, and it’s not yet known if the uncounted ballots were mail-in or in-office ballots, or a combination of the two types of early voting.

While there were no discrepancies found in Butler County’s November 2018 general election results, there were votes that were not counted, and even more votes that were almost not counted. But those issues were due to a post office issue and human error and not a protocol error, officials said.

ELECTION 2018: Butler County must count votes made via erroneous voter ID envelope (November 2018)

ELECTION 2018: Some Butler County votes won’t count after postmark issues (November 2018)

More than 120 potentially valid Butler County ballots went uncounted in November because the United States Post Office did not stamp a post office mark on the envelopes received after Election Day. Noonan and Corbin said after that election they have no way to prove when they were sent.

Any mail-in ballot received after Election Day must have a post office mark to definitively prove it was mailed during the early voting period. Mail-in ballots not mailed must be hand-delivered to the elections office on Election Day in order to be counted.

Dozens of votes almost weren’t counted in that same election because of an error with the absentee ballot identification envelope that contained an error. There were 20,000 absentee ballots sent out with that error — there weren’t enough boxes for a voter’s driver’s license number — but a few dozen were determined to have incomplete information. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office ordered the Butler County Board of Elections to count those ballots with incomplete driver’s license numbers.

If voters are concerned if their early vote is being counted, they can track their ballots on the Butler County Board of Elections website, or call the elections office. Voters who have deficiencies in their ballot application, or with the ballot itself, are contacted by mail and phone, or email if provided by the voter.

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FACTS & FIGURES

• Butler County is the 7th largest county in Ohio with an estimated 380,600 residents

• Butler County residents registered to vote in November 2018: 254,748

• Butler County votes cast in November 2018: 137,858

• Butler County’s voter turnout in November 2018 was 54.1 percent, which was the best for a gubernatorial election in at least 20 years.

• There are 282 precincts in Butler County

FACTS & FIGURES

254,748: Butler County residents registered to vote in November 2018

137,858: Butler County votes cast in November 2018

54.1%: Butler County’s voter turnout in November 2018.

282: Voting precincts in Butler County