Clayton County Elections and Registration officials say Tuesday’s election, at least as far as the process itself, was smooth sailing.

Voting is your right and your responsibility as a United States citizen. You can have strong opinions about politics, even be politically active, but not know about the basic nuts and bolts of how your vote is counted. Because few voters ever see what goes on behind the scenes during vote tabulation, The Clayton Crescent makes every effort to educate our readers about the process.

During the 2020 Presidential elections, The Clayton Crescent documented deliberate efforts to spread false claims of ballot mishandling and to disrupt operations at the Clayton County tabulation center.

Last night, some of the same observers from 2020 were back at “The Bunker,” but they did not engage in overtly disruptive behavior. One person did cross the blue observation line into the tabulation area and took a pen from a cup at an unattended tabulator’s work station.

During the observation, a Democrat and a Republican, both claiming to be attorneys and veterans, got into a heated discussion about whether they had been better off under Trump and challenged each other’s bona fides. That was the extent of any political unrest in Clayton County last night.

One woman complained about lack of public access to the restroom during previous elections. (Observers were allowed to use the restroom last night) Another asked why the bathrooms had been off limits. “Because they [Clayton County election officials] suck!” the first observer shouted.

A couple of observers expressed concern over what they could see. As in previous elections, their concerns seemed to stem from unfamiliarity with the process, as well as prompting to look for anything “suspicious.” This distrust is complicated by the fact that elections workers who are taking part in the count are not allowed to speak with observers, who in turn are frustrated when they can’t get their questions answered.

To help dispel fears about the tabulation process, here are some of the items and activities that people observing the count would see.

The actual in-person process of counting the votes is long, tedious, and boring, as one Democratic observer noted. Most people only see the results on TV or online. While you’re watching or listening to hours of adrenaline-inducing election coverage on shiny, colorful sets, the long, tedious, boring part of democracy is happening off camera, in school gyms, church basements, and run-down government buildings.

Well before early voting, Elections and Registration holds logic and accuracy testing. The public is also welcome to observe that long, tedious, boring process, which involves setting up the voting machines so that they will be able to record the votes correctly. L&A testing is announced through a series of public notices like this one from 2020 that ran in the Clayton News (which holds the county contract to print legal notices):

A 2020 legal notice of logic and accuracy testing, published in the Clayton News. Members of the public can observe logic and accuracy testing, which is the process of preparing electronic voting machines for an upcoming election.

When early voting starts, county elections workers have already been hard at work, receiving paper advance and absentee ballots, as well as advance in-person votes from the machines. By law, they cannot reveal the numbers before the polls close on Election Day, so as not to influence the voters and thus the outcome.

The whole nation got to see the process of hand-counting paper ballots up close during the 2020 election. The Clayton Crescent made sure to document that long process quite extensively. It looks like this:

Clayton County Elections and Registration officials count paper advance/absentee ballots that are transported to and from the tabulation area in a blue steel lockbox. Each lockbox also has a security seal to indicate whether it has been opened. This photo was taken during the 2020 election at “The Bunker” in Jonesboro, GA. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Once the paper ballots are counted, they are placed into a high-speed scanner, which records an image of the ballot and converts the bubbled-in votes to data. On rare occasions, a ballot does not feed correctly into the scanner and an election worker will have to take it out and send it through again for it to register. This is not “counting the same ballot twice,” but some observers get worried when they see it happen.

“Suitcases full of ballots”

During the 2020 Presidential election, some people claimed that Fulton County elections workers at State Farm Arena had “suitcases full of ballots.” Below is a photo of such suitcase-like objects at the Fountain of Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Riverdale. They are cases that are used to transport the ballot-marking devices (touch screens) and printers to and from the polling place:

These are not “suitcases full of ballots,” as alleged in the 2020 Presidential race in Fulton County. They are cases for ballot marking devices and printers at the Fountain of Faith Missionary Baptist Church polling place (RD 11). (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Transporting the actual votes

When each precinct closes, all the votes cast are placed onto a CF card, similar to those used to record photos and data in digital cameras. Each card is placed into a special red bag, similar to a bank deposit bag, that has a metal zipper and a lock. A Clayton County Elections and Registration official, accompanied by a Clayton County Police officer, picks up each of the red lock bags and places them inside a large locked satchel, similar to those that an armored truck driver uses to carry cash into a bank. They escort the votes back to the tabulation center:

A Clayton County Elections and Registration official and Clayton County Police officer arrive at the tabulation center with a bag containing votes from several precincts, Jonesboro, GA, Nov. 8, 2022. The bag contains several lock bags, which each contain a single CF card with the votes for that precinct. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Once the votes are delivered, elections officials count the bags, open the bags, and count the cards. Here is a photo of Clayton County elections officials removing the cards from the lock bags used during one of the 2020 recounts:

Each digital CF cards (the small black squares on the upper right corner of the table in this photo) contains all the votes from a single precinct. Each one is placed inside the red zippered lock bags for transport to the tabulation center. Here, election workers at “The Bunker” in Jonesboro count and remove the cards from each bag during one of the 2020 recounts. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Then they pass the cards to another elections employee whose job it is to upload the data, check it, then send it directly to the Georgia Secretary of State’s server:

After state elections officials check the data the county sent, they release it back to the county and the general public. You can see it happen in real time on the state election results webpages:

Every day, election workers have to set up and take down their workspaces, and all the ballots are carefully counted, locked in secure boxes, and transported to secure holding areas until the next day when the count continues.

Part of hand-counting paper ballots is deciding how a voter meant to mark their ballot when it’s not exactly clear. That requires a committee of three people who are allowed rare access to such ballots. The committee is made up of one Democrat and one Republican, each of whom are named by county part officials, and an Elections and Registration official. The three people sit together, review any ballot that does not clearly indicate the voter’s intent, and decide what the voter had chosen:

A three-person vote review panel studies a ballot during the 2020 recount at “The Bunker,” Jonesboro, GA. Here, an Elections and Registration official works alongside representatives of the Clayton County Democratic and Republican Parties. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

For example, a voter might have accidentally voted for candidates from two different parties in the same race, but cast a straight party vote on all the other races. That would imply that the voter would have chosen the candidate who belonged to the same party as the other races in which the voter’s intentions were clear.

Many voters do not know that the “write-in” space for each race is not for them to pick a name at random. You only should use it to enter the name of a certified write-in candidate who was approved to run in that particular race. You should never use it to write in meaningless votes like “Mickey Mouse” or “None of the Above.”

Write-in candidates are people who qualified to run for the office, but who did not do so in time to get their name printed on the ballot. Here is a list of qualified write-in candidates for Tuesday’s election—none of whom were in Clayton County:

That list of write-in candidates was published on the Clayton County Elections and Registration website at the end of the countywide sample ballot.

Finally, the Elections and Registration Board holds a special called meeting to certify the results, which are then sent to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for approval before they become official. The special called meeting for Tuesday’s election takes place on Monday, Nov. 14 at 5:30 p.m., at 7946 N. McDonough Street in Jonesboro.

If you have questions about the different steps in the process of counting votes, you can contact the Clayton County Elections and Registration Office at (770) 477-3372. You also can contact the Board of Elections and Registration, which holds its regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at 7946 N. McDonough Street in Jonesboro.

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