A high number of Ward County voters have chosen to vote early for Tuesday's general election. Shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday a lengthy line of voters could be seen extending from inside the courthouse to the outside steps.
Voting continued at a steady pace throughout the day.
According to Devra Smestad, Ward County auditor, the number of early ballots cast prior to Thursday had easily surpassed the amount tallied in the 2008 general election. In that year 2,051 voters cast their ballots prior to election day.
Voters stand in line outside the Ward County courthouse Thursday morning for the opportunity to cast their ballots prior to Tuesday’s general election. Early voting closed at 6 p.m. Thursday.
"We've been averaging a little over 600 a day since October 25th," said Smestad Thursday morning.
Early voting began at 11 a.m. Thursday and was to continue until 6 p.m. Voting was heavy. By mid-afternoon more than 600 votes were cast and additional ballots were needed. It was the last day for early voting because the courthouse space used for the voting is needed for training sessions today. Smestad will be instructing about 120 election workers regarding their responsibilities and duties on election day.
The early ballots, and the PC cards from the scanning machines, were to be removed Thursday evening and secured.
"The voted ballots are wrapped in several different ways, put into metal ballot boxes, zip-tie locked and stored in the vault," said Smestad. "The PC cards are secured in the vault also. We can't run those results until after 7 p.m. Tuesday night when the polls close. That's when we will unseal those cards, put them back in the scanner and, then run the results."
While the number of early voters has been very high, so too has been the number of absentee ballots. As of Thursday morning Smestad's office had received over 6,000 absentee ballots. That compares to a total of 4,229 in the general election of 2008.
As is the case with the early ballots, the absentee ballots cannot be counted until after the polls close Tuesday. The process for tabulating absentee ballots differs somewhat from the counting of early votes.
"There is an application with an affidavit that holds the secrecy sleeve for the absentee ballot," explained Smestad. "We compare the signature on the affidavit with the ballot signature. If they match, we'll process the ballots through the scanner as well, but that can't take place until after 7 p.m. Tuesday."
To speed up the process of counting absentee ballots the county has created an "absentee" precinct. The hope is to begin counting the absentee ballots and processing the results shortly after the polls close. During past elections the counting of absentee ballots was sometimes delayed until individual precincts had reported vote totals.
Even after those ballots are included in tabulations, more ballots will likely be added before the election results will be certified.
"Absentee ballots have to be postmarked by November 5," explained Smestad. "We have canvassing on the last possible day, the 13th. Overseas voters might have their ballots postmarked in plenty of time but the mail might not get processed quickly. We'll accept those right up to the morning of the 13th. We give absentee voters every possible chance to have their vote counted. Sometimes its only five or 10 on the last day, but you never know."