Counting votes calls for accuracy, not speed

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Every election in Bartow County finds a small but dedicated cadre of election watchers — some official, some not so much — stuffed into a cramped little conference room at election headquarters, waiting to be among the first to know the outcome of the days voting. 

Sometimes, the results don't come as fast as they had hoped. After all, there are media deadlines to meet and post election parties to attend.

Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk has heard the grousing. 

"This has become a bigger issue in recent years," he said. "Not just here, but in general. People want to see the results come in quickly. They think with everything being computerized, the results should be instantaneous." 

But he would prefer the results be accurate rather than fast. 

"At 7 o'clock, when the polls close, certain processes have to happen," he said. "We have to reconcile numbers, make sure that everything matches, make sure all the memory cards and paperwork are packed up right and brought back here. Then there are security procedures we have to follow to ensure the correct results get back to the election headquarters.

"Some managers do this faster than others. One may have a tiny polling place and they have been doing it for years. When the polls close, they're ready."

Kirk said poll managers follow a specific shutdown procedure of checks and balances.

"I tell them, don't let anyone bully you because they are in a hurry," he said. "This is important; everything you do is important. Don't get in a rush because when you do that's when mistakes happen."

When the clock strikes 7 p.m., a clerk is supposed to take a place at the end of the line. Anyone arriving behind the clerk isn't allowed to vote.

"After the last person in line has voted, all supplies are packed up and the equipment is closed down," Kirk said. "On the voting machines, that's a two-person job, one to read a check list and one to push 'OK.' — check and balances — and the results are generated. In fact, three copies of the results are generated — one to prove we didn't tamper with the results, the next goes to me for my records and the third is posted on the precinct door."

The memory cards and paperwork are driven to the election headquarters where the cards are uploaded into a server. Once loaded, the results are transferred from the server to an internet connecting computer that will transfer the data to the state.

Kirk said the turnout size doesn't really affect the time needed to count the votes.

"It can be 500 or 5,000; the procedure remains the same," he said.

Kirk said Bartow's system is outdated and should be replaced soon. In fact, he will attend a meeting Wednesday in Atlanta to discuss new systems.

"We are still operating with a system that came online in 2002," he said. "We have to get a new system here, we just have to. But, remember just 10 or 15 years ago, we hoped to have the results known by midnight."