Getting It Write – Election Commission approves extra training to help poll workers handle four write-in campaigns in August
The “write” rules, the “write” regulations and the “write” training were the major topics Friday as Election Commission members discussed how to deal with the number of write-in candidates for the upcoming August election.
“This is going to be a different election than we’ve ever had,” commission member Miller Garland said. “We’ve never had this many write-ins.”
Write-in votes present the election commission with issues different from the typical ballot. Many of the members of the commission expressed concern about how poll workers would deal with questions from voters inquiring about write-in votes, write-in candidates and the process for completing a write-in vote.
Under state regulations, poll workers cannot provide voters with the names of any candiates running write-in campaigns, cannot say if any write-in candidates are seeking a specific office and also cannot provide any spellings of names of write-in candidates, according to Administrator of Elections Tracy Harris.
Harris said poll workers can only explain the process for completing a write-in vote. She said poll workers must answer any other questions by responding that “the ballot speaks for itself” and they must refrain from identifying any candidates.
“It is going to be a little difficult for the machine operators and the officers but we have to follow what the state says,” said Doug Buckles, chair of the commission.
Because of the unique issues for write-in votes – and the number of candidates who have been certified to run write-in campaigns – commission member Paul Souder called for additional training for the poll workers.
“We could put ourselves in a very precarious position should we not have qualified people working the polls,” Souder said. “I suggest, Mr. Chairman, that we have extensive training for these machine operators.”
Souder also suggested that if poll workers fail to attend training they not be allowed to work the polls.
“I know it may cost us more in training but it will help keep us out of hot water down the line over something a poll worker has said,” Souder said.
The commission passed by unanimous vote a motion to require the additional training for poll workers.
Members of the commission also discussed campaign material that had been brought to their attention because it raised some legal questions. The item in question is a printed card which has campaign material for a certified write-in candidate for the August election on one side, and a set of instructions for completing a write-in vote on the other side.
Harris said she had contacted the state Election Commission regarding the campaign materials. She said she was told it is legal for a voter to bring in instructions for completing a write-in vote. However, because these particular cards have campaign material on the other side, the card would be considered campaign material and would therefore be illegal to carry into a polling place. By law no campaign materials are allowed within the boundary at polling locations.
“There are no campaign materials allowed within 100 feet of the polling place. Period. Amen,” said Souder.
Harris said each polling place will have a sheet of instructions for the process which voters review before casting their votes.
Members of the commission discussed the options of placing trash cans at the entrance to polling locations and having an election worker standing at the entrance letting voters know that the campaign materials could not be brought into the polls.
Another issue the commission will face in August relates to the results – and when they will be available.
“That night when we run everything it will show the number of write-ins, but it does not mean the candidate got all of those votes,” Harris said, adding that a voter may have entered another name or simply selected the write-in button and then did not enter any name.
Write-in votes must be hand-counted during the canvassing process, which begins the day after the election. “Canvassing may take three or four days to go through,” Harris said, adding that three of the four certified write-in candidates are seeking “big” offices.
Harris said the commission will have the unofficial numbers on election night, but the official numbers will not be known until the canvassing is completed.