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Ballots are being counted now
Voter turnout for USD 428 bond question was around 45%
mail ballot board 2019
Members of the four-person election board for Thursday’s mail-ballot election prepare ballots for counting, Thursday at the Barton County Courthouse. - photo by Susan Thacker

The results of the mail-ballot election for up to $44,870,000 for facilities improvements at Great Bend USD 428 will be announced later this evening.

The deadline for turning in ballots to the Barton County Clerk’s Office was noon, and voters were bringing in their ballots until the deadline was reached. Ballot envelopes were stamped with their time of arrival and County Clerk/Election Officer Donna Zimmerman said her office would also check with the Great Bend Post Office shortly after noon to see if any additional ballots arrived there before the deadline.

Zimmerman said was voter turnout was about 45%. Of the 10,469 ballots mailed, 5,859 were returned, but that also includes ballots that were undeliverable.

After some training at 8 a.m., the four-person election board, along with other employees in Zimmerman’s office (who are all certified election workers) began the task of opening envelopes and preparing ballots for counting in the afternoon.

The Great Bend Tribune will report on the results as soon as they are available and they will also be posted on the Barton County website, under the “Election Results” link.

Counting ballots

With paper ballots that would be counted by hand, Zimmerman said several old election laws came into play.

Each ballot was stamped with a unique number on the corner. Election workers verified that each ballot was cast by the person it was issued to and then the numbers were cut off. Only later would election workers begin to count the votes, starting with Question Two, which seeks $3.12 million for a new gymnasium at Great Bend Middle School. Question Two can only pass if Question One is also approved; the first question seeks $41.75 million for school improvements that include safe rooms and other safety measures, a new wing at Great Bend Middle School so sixth graders can be moved to GBMS, and preschool classrooms and playgrounds at all of the elementary schools.

Following the mandate of another old election law, Zimmerman said the counted ballots would be strung on a thread. Thursday’s final count will not be official. The Barton County Commissioners will sit as a board of canvassers on Monday and will verify the final result.

The ballots are counted by a bipartisan, four-member board consisting of one Democrat and three Republicans, with three of the board members residing in USD 428 and one person living outside the district. Monica Bowers was the board’s supervising judge and the other board members were Renee Dykes, Char Engleman and Wanda Weber. They would work in pairs. Also helping handle the ballots were sworn election board workers and county employees Chris Saenz and Bj Wooding.

The last time Barton County had a mail-ballot election was in 2015, when Hoisington USD 431 voters approved an $11.5 million bond issue to construct a new Lincoln Elementary School to replace a building that was approximately 90 years old. That question passed with nearly 76% voter support.

Uncounted ballots

A few ballots returned to the courthouse won’t be counted, Zimmerman said. Voters were required to follow the instructions, which including signing the return envelopes before mailing/delivering the ballots. At least two ballots from a couple could not be counted because they switched envelopes.

Another ballot that won’t be counted arrived in the mail slot at USD 428’s District Education Center Thursday morning. Andrea Bauer, the district’s public relations director, said the ballot was discovered after 11 a.m. and she hand-delivered it to the courthouse before noon.

“I don’t know if it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote,” Bauer said.

Ballots that were hand-delivered could be brought in by another person, such as a spouse, but in this case, the ballot won’t be counted because its “chain of custody” is unknown, Zimmerman said.

After the election

Zimmerman commended her employees for their work on this election, from preparing ballots to go out in the mail to processing them as they arrived back at the courthouse. “We don’t say enough about their hours of hard work,” she said.

The pro-bond group that supported the bond election through advertising and other expenditures will be required to submit a Campaign Finance Report to the County Clerk’s Office by Dec. 31. There was no anti-bond group registered for this election.