Absentee Clerks

PHOTO: Pictured is a past election. This is the workspace area at the Chatham County Board of Elections office on Eisenhower Drive where absentee ballots are processed by the staff hired for the election.  

By Lou Phelps, SBJ

June 11, 2020 – In an exclusive interview this afternoon with Atty. Thomas J. Mahoney, III, chairman of The Chatham County Board of Elections, he explained the additional procedures the Board of Elections has undertaken to complete the count of the avalanche of paper ballots received in Tuesday’s Presidential Primary and General Election. His goal is to have all the votes counted by next Weds, June 17.  

Several thousand new election results were added today, bringing the election results up to 27,039 out of the more than 57,000 votes cast in Tuesday's Presidential Primary and General Election. 

There are still 28,390 absentee paper ballots to be processed and counted by the Board of Registrars.  How many have been processed and turned over to the Board of Elections from the Board of Registrars is not known.

Only 2,449 absentee ballots have been counted out of the 30,839 received.  that number is 53.28% of the total votes cast on election day, in early voting, by absentee or as a provisional ballot.  5,503 people voted early, in-person. 

Those 30,839 absentee ballots represent 53.28% of the total 57,878 votes cast. In most elections, the absentee ballots represented from 8% to 16% of the total vote.

Mahoney states that they realized weeks ago that they were going to be hit with a large number of absentees to handle after the Secretary of State and Chatham County encouraged people to vote by absentee who were concerned about social distancing needs during the current COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Board of Elections crews have been working to hand process and count absentee ballots since the close of voting on Tuesday night.   We have posted the updated results from Tuesday night on the Board of Elections website and on Chatham County TV channel 16. Many more absentee ballots have been processed and are ready to be added to the official count. New election results will be available shortly and we will continue to update the results as often as possible each day,” the Board stated in a press release issued this afternoon.

According to Mahoney, the absentee clerks will be working straight through, including this Saturday and Sunday, working in shifts.  “We hope to finish processing and counting by Wednesday,”  June 17, he stated today, and to have certified the election by Friday, June 19.   

“We have four times the staff than we typically have.  That effort, to get ready for the absentees, has already happened.  This was our plan to deal with this avalanche of ballots,” he said.  He added that the Board will have to look at how they will address what could be even larger numbers of absentees for the November Presidential Election.   In the November 2016 Presidential General Election, 113,555 people voted in Chatham County.  There are now more registered voters, as well, since 2016. 

“It’s takes a long time to count.  We knew this, and we also knew that we were asking for huge headache (by encouraging absentee voting.)  It is going to take time.  If we had a failure, it was not explaining to the public how long it would take,” he said.  

The Board of Election team can only process and count absentees after they are received from the Board of Registrars, the body that actually receives the inbound mail.  Those employees have been faced with the same mountain of work, he added.

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