By Jessie Wagoner
McPherson News-Ledger Staff
When voters headed to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3, they voted and began waiting for the election results to come in. The wait has been longer than some voters anticipated, but Hollie Melroy, McPherson County clerk, said the wait is to be expected, as it is a process that begins before Election Day and continues in the days following Election Day.
Long before Election Day, Melroy and her staff began preparing for the election. She said the Secretary of State’s office said to be prepared because they anticipated 2020 being the largest election ever; the previous record was made in 2012. Not only were there more advance ballot requests than ever before but a pandemic to deal with.
“This is my first presidential election in this office, so it was a lot to prepare for,” Melroy said. “In 2012, there were 450,000 requests for advance ballots in the state. We were two weeks from the cutoff of being able to request an advance ballot and had already hit 600,000 in the state.”
In McPherson County, there were a total of 2,722 ballots mailed to voters. That includes permanent advance voters, single advance voters for this election only and ballots for military members and those living overseas. Those advance ballots were still arriving Friday, three days after the election.
“Some people don’t understand advance ballots have to be postmarked as of Election Day and we still take them up to Friday after the election,” Melroy said. “So we are getting new numbers every day up until Friday on those.”
Melroy, as well as clerks throughout the country, had to also develop a plan to ensure those who tested positive for COVID-19 or were in quarantine could still vote. To do so, they offered curbside voting. If someone with COVID-19 or in quarantine wanted to vote, poll workers would suit up in PPE and go to their vehicle so they could vote. Those ballots then had to be quarantined for three days, meaning they weren’t able to be counted until after the quarantine.
Due to the high number of advance voting ballots requested this year, Melroy and her staff worked overtime to ensure all of the requests were processed. They were working over the weekend in advance of the election to ensure the requests were processed and all ballots were mailed in a timely manner. Other changes for this election included the addition of a second ballot drop box in the clerk’s office. This was done because the first box filled up so quickly, something that has never happened before.
There were also safeguards put in to handle processing advance ballots. An additional person was hired to ensure that two people could go to pick up ballots. Not only did two people go to pick up the ballots at the drop boxes and post office, but those two people were from two different political parties.
Mail-in ballots require further addition from Melroy and her staff. As mail-in ballots are processed, Melroy and her staff look each ballot up in their computer system. They compare the signatures on the registration card with the signature on the ballot. Sometimes the signatures easily match, ensuring staff the correct person completed the ballot. However, there are times the signatures aren’t as clear, and follow up work is needed. This involves Melroy calling individual voters to ensure it was them.
“It is great when it pops up and the signature matches the signature card perfectly,” Melroy said. “But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes people are in a hurry and don’t sign as clearly. Sometimes we have to go back and compare signatures from when they signed in for previous elections. It takes awhile to complete the follow up and call people.”
For this election, the Secretary of State’s office made it possible for people to track their advance vote. On their website, voters could enter their information and see if their advance ballot had been mailed to them and received when the voter sent it back. This was a helpful tool for many advance voters. However, it has caused some confusion among voters, resulting in numerous calls to the clerk’s office.
The website only tracks advance votes. If a person voted in person, it will not show up on the website because the voters themselves already know they cast a vote on Election Day. The website also provides a voter history, showing previous elections the voter has voted in. This information will not be updated on the website until after the election has ended, meaning all votes are counted and the canvass is complete. Melroy will be doing the canvass on Monday, Nov. 16.
“We don’t have all the books scanned in yet, we haven’t ran all of our reports, we haven’t done canvas yet,” Melroy said. “I don’t do the website, so I don’t know how it works or when it will update.”
While not all of the votes have been counted yet, they will be. What Melroy knows so far is that the county saw a 77.9 percent voter turnout with just the votes that went through the counter. That total will likely increase when hand counting is complete. The record-breaking turnout has led to more work for Melroy and her staff, but she is proud of McPherson County for exercising their right to vote.
“McPherson people are fantastic,” Melroy said. “We broke every record previously set. I’m thankful and blessed I get to do this for another four years.”