A tutorial in absentee/early ballots

BRATTLEBORO — I'm writing to set the record straight on early voting.

All ballots voted prior to Election Day are received by the town clerk and staff, already sealed in individual envelopes by the voter.

There is an extensive paper trail for all early balloting, tracking such records as the date requested, the date we processed the ballot, the method of delivery to the voter (if the voter picked up the ballot in person, had it mailed, or had two justices of the peace deliver to their home), and the date it was returned.

These signed, unopened envelopes are brought to the polls on Election Day, along with their paper trail.

Once the polls are declared open, election workers open the envelopes without consideration of which voter submitted the ballot.

Ballots are placed in stacks, face down, then taken to the voting tabulators - generally a different election worker - in large stacks and individually inserted, face down, into the tabulators. This process is usually completed by noon, depending on the number of early ballots.

There were about 500 early ballots to process for the primary election, and all that had been received at that time were processed before 11 a.m.

Early ballots continue to be delivered in person at the polls as the day goes on, and after accounting for each, they are deposited into the tabulator as we receive them.

A sign on the town clerk's office door lets voters know that if they are returning their ballot after 4:30 p.m., they will need to deliver it directly to the polls. An election worker drives to the Municipal Center just before 5 p.m. to collect any ballots that might have been dropped off or delivered in the mail on Election Day while staff worked at the polls.

Per state law, all ballots received prior to 7 p.m. at the polls are accounted for, deposited into the tabulator, and included in the tabulator tallies at the end of the day. When results are announced at the end of the day, all early/absentee ballots have been included in that count.

As often happens, we will receive a ballot or two in the following day's mail. It is too late to count those ballots into the results. It is so sad to receive late ballots.

These envelopes are never opened. They are marked “spoiled” with a reason why on the unopened envelope and sealed in a ballot bag, as are all voted ballots for the required amount of time.

Bags of voted and spoiled ballots for a primary or general election must be retained for 22 months, at which time the bags are opened and all ballots are destroyed.

For more information or questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 802-251-8129.

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