The 15 provisional ballots reviewed by Monroe County’s election board on Friday at Election Central were not enough to affect the outcome of any of the races, not even the MCCSC referendum, which passed on a narrow 108-vote margin.
But the work of the board on Friday still affected the final tallies. Five out of the 15 provisional ballots were accepted as valid by the board. The remaining ten were rejected.
A provisional ballot is used when a voter’s eligibility is questioned on Election Day, or during the early or absentee voting process. A provisional ballot allows a voter to go ahead and cast their vote. But it gets set aside, subject to later verification by the election board.
Friday’s process got started when election supervisor Ryan Herndon and deputy clerk Larime Wilson retrieved from the ballot room the sealed green bags containing the provisional ballots. Any time the ballot room is opened or a ballot is handled, a pair of people who don’t both belong to the same political party is required to be present.
The three-member election board is itself partisan-balanced, with a Democrat and a Republican, and the elected county clerk. The current election board for Monroe County consists of David Henry (Democratic Party appointee), Judith Benckart (Republican Party appointee) and Nicole Browne (elected county clerk).
After the ballots were retrieved, Browne opened up each bag in turn and the board considered the green envelopes containing the ballots.
The first one to be examined was a ballot from a voter who was registered in the Bloomington 15 precinct, and tried to vote at the Arlington Elementary School polling location. That was actually the correct place for someone to vote, if they are registered in that precinct.
There was nothing written on the envelope to explain why the ballot had been set aside as a provisional ballot. So the board voted to accept the ballot as valid.
Rejected were two ballots from the absentee voting process, which showed a mismatch between the signature on the envelope sent in by the voter, and the signature on file in the voter registration system.
Browne noted that often people who are married will inadvertently sign each other’s ballot envelopes, which means the ballots get flagged and set aside as provisional. It appeared that the two ballots being reviewed by the election board were mixed up in exactly that way.
Voters with a mismatched signature get notified that they have until 10 days after Election Day to come to Election Central and “cure” the ballot. Even though there was a likely explanation for the mismatched signatures—that a married couple had mixed up their ballot envelopes—the board voted on Friday to reject them.
For a different provisional ballot reviewed by the board, a voter appeared in the correct voting location on Election Day, but could not produce a valid ID for voting purposes. When someone casts a provisional ballot because of an ID issue, they have until 10 days after Election Day to show election staff a valid ID to “cure” the ballot. The voter had not done that, so the election board voted to reject the ballot.
For at least one provisional ballot, the voter was registered in a different Indiana county, which meant that their ballot was rejected.
For a ballot that was voted at the University Elementary School polling location, the voter had registered, but after the Oct. 10 deadline for this year’s Nov. 7 election. That meant the voter did not show up in the electronic pollbook, and were ineligible to vote. That’s a fact that election division staff were able to verify on Friday.
But the inspector’s note on the green envelope, which contained the ballot, gave the election board pause (emphasis added): “Voter is not in the poll book. Election Central confirmed voter is eligible.”
There was some speculation that it was perhaps a slip of the pen—that the inspector meant to write “voter ineligible” or “voter is ineligible.” Several different people could have fielded the call from the polling location to Election Central on Election Day. No one present at Friday’s meeting recalled fielding that call.
Henry acknowledged the possibility that the inspector wrote something different from what they intended, but noted the status of the note as a legal document that had been signed by the voter and the inspector and observed, “That’s not what it says.”
In the end, Henry concurred with other board members in rejecting the ballot, because there was not an eligible voter to whom the ballot could be assigned, if the board voted to accept it.
Not a part of the board’s Friday agenda was a review of the Nov. 7 election procedures, to analyze what went right and what could be improved. That will come at the board’s next regular meeting, which is set for Dec. 7.