HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — While the general election is still more than a month away, testing the equipment that will count ballots is already underway.
Every single piece of equipment that’s used on Election Day gets tested. On Thursday, Ottawa County election staff members were in Holland to check its machines.
“So we mark ballots incorrectly. We mark ballots correctly. We want to make sure the equipment counts what it’s not supposed to count, doesn’t count what it’s not supposed to count,” Ottawa County Clerk and Register of Deeds Justin Roebuck explained.
If the August primary is any indication, about half the votes cast in November will be from absentee ballots. While it’s a more convenient way to vote, absentee ballots take more time to process. And until now, the preparations could not start until the polls opened on Election Day, forcing counts, especially in more populated areas, to go well into the next day.
But a bill that passed the state Legislature on Wednesday could help alleviate the problem. It does not allow the votes to be counted any earlier but it does give local clerks more time to prepare the absentee ballots to be counted. They may now start the process two days before the election.
It starts by verifying the signature of the voter on the ballot envelope. Then, workers open the mailer envelope.
“And verifying that the stub number on the ballot matches what’s on the outside envelope here,” Roebuck showed News 8.
The actual ballot remains in the secrecy sleeve.
“The numbered stub is then removed, so now it’s not identifiable to a voter,” Roebuck said.
Once unfolded and placed in a sealed container, the ballot is ready to be fed into a tabulator on Election Day.
“All they’re doing is those verification pieces: the signature, the number on the ballot envelope matches the numbered stub on the ballot,” Roebuck emphasized.
The legislation not only streamlines the process, but Roebuck said it also allows for better transparency. Absentee ballot counting boards, made up of people from both political parties, are on hand as part of the vote counting process no matter how late it begins. The process is open to the public.
“I would say, would you rather observe an absentee counting board at 3 in the morning on Wednesday or would you rather observe and absentee courting board at 10 in the morning on Monday?” Roebuck said.
The bill includes other provisions, like more security at drop boxes and allowing military voters to cast ballots electronically, using their secure military email account.
The Ottawa County Clerk’s Office is offering a series of town hall meetings to answer questions about the voting process. You can find out when the next meeting is by calling the clerk’s office or by checking its Facebook or Twitter accounts.
The general election is Nov. 8.