As the mail-in special election for the Unified School District 428 bond issue continues, some voters have asked about the security and anonymity of the process, County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman said. She welcomes the questions and wants to assuage those concerns.
“We want to be as transparent as possible,” she said. “We would be happy for anyone to view the process from our front counter and ask any questions.”
There are two questions on the ballot: Question one, for $41,750,000 for assorted school improvements; and question two includes an additional $3,120,000 for a new Great Bend Middle School gym. The ballots must be in Zimmerman’s office by noon Sept. 5.
“The school district requested the date of the election as well as the type of election (mail ballot),” Zimmerman said. The decision to use “hand-counted” special ballots rather than the traditional Opti-scan ballots was a cost-saving measure, she said. But, they are still secure.
The district also chose the special election rather than to include the questions on the regular election ballot in November.
How it works
State law dictates that hand-counted paper ballots are numbered in the upper right hand corner. In fact, state election law governs all aspects of elections.
• The ballot envelopes containing the signature are verified prior to the counting board coming on site on election day, she said. Otherwise there would be no way to verify all returned ballots, and open and count in one day due to time constraints.
“That is why signatures are on the outside of the envelope, so it can be verified,” Zimmerman said. “Verification of signature ensures the person to whom the ballot is address is actually the person who votes it.”
• Then, on the day of the election, the four-member counting board (made up of experienced election board supervisors) will open all verified ballot envelopes and separate the ballots from the envelopes while being careful to not unfold and expose the votes on any ballot.
The counting board will compare the number on the outside of the folded ballot to the number on the envelope to make sure the correct voter voted the ballot. Once it is confirmed, the number will be clipped from the ballot.
The envelopes will then be placed altogether in envelopes trays.
The reason for the numbers in the corner of the ballots is to assure the ballot is legitimate and was submitted by the person for whom it was intended, Zimmerman said. But, she stressed, that number is cut off immediately after the verification process and prior to looking at the votes.
• The ballots will then, and only then, be opened and laid flat, she said.
• They will then be stacked into stacks of “yes,” “no,” blank, and over-voted (the voter marked both “yes” and “no”) ballots (according to question one). They will be counted as many times as necessary until all counting board members agree with the tally.
• After that, they will then be restacked into stacks of “yes,” “no,” blank, and over-voted ballots (according to question two). Again, they will be counted until everyone agrees with the tally.
“The counting board will work from our back office with direct sight line to our front office,” Zimmerman said. “Myself, as well as members of our staff, will be able to view the process.”
Not the first time
Zimmerman said this isn’t the first mail-in election her office has handled. In fact, it has been pretty common.
The school district held a mail-in special bond election in February 1995 utilizing the same procedure. Since then, there have been mailed elections in Pawnee Rock and more recently in 2015 in Hoisington, as well as others.