The Howard County Election Board on Friday voted to toss 17 provisional ballots cast in the General Election due to a poll worker causing numerous errors.
Howard County Clerk Debbie Stewart, who serves on the three-person board, said she cringed when she came across the ballots. They had all been flagged because they were riddled with errors, including having the voters name written on the ballot and then not placed in a signed envelope.
“I literally almost had a heart attack when I opened these,” she said.
Election Board member Derick Steele said he suspected one poll worker was responsible for the mistakes on all 17 ballots, which the board voted unanimously to dismiss.
“This is a problem we need to make sure never happens again,” he said. “To the extent that they were not filled out properly is something we haven’t seen before … The fact that it was a provisional ballot not properly completed is not unusual, but the extent of it was what was unusual and needs to be addressed.”
All the ballots would have been provisional ballots, which allow a voter to cast a ballot who believes they are qualified to vote in the precinct, even if there is a question about the voter’s qualification to vote in the precinct.
Steele said around 70% of provisional ballots end up being tossed after Election Day.
“The likelihood is that these would have been rejected anyways due to a lack of voter registration,” he said. “That being said, I strongly encourage us to determine whether that inspector should be working again.”
In total, around 120 provisional ballots were cast this election. Steele said that’s about double from past elections. He contributed the spike to the massive voter turnout, which hit 67% this year, far surpassing the last presidential election.
However, the number of unsigned ballots dropped significantly this year, even with the huge numbers of mail-in and absentee voting. In past elections, unsigned ballots were dismissed, but the state this year allowed voters to fill out an affidavit to correct the error.
Stewart said 38 voters who didn’t sign their ballot filled out the affidavit, allowing them to be counted. Another 17 were tossed because the voter didn’t fill out an affidavit.
Steele said even with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to an unprecedented election cycle, this year was one of the smoothest elections he’s seen in Howard County.
“I think the election in Howard County went as smooth as any I’ve been a part of in the last 6 years,” he said.