|TO:||County Clerks/Elections Administrators|
|FROM:||Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections|
|DATE:||October 31, 2008|
|RE:||Central counting and Central Accumulation Station Procedures|
This memorandum is to remind you of several procedures that must be followed when ballots are counted at a central counting station or when vote totals are electronically accumulated at a central accumulation station. Using these procedures will assist you in obtaining an accurate count on election night. If you have any questions regarding these procedures, please contact our office toll-free at 1-800-252-2216.
The central counting station is composed of several groups of people. They are the manager and the manager’s clerks, the tabulation supervisor and assistant tabulation supervisors, and the presiding judge, alternate judge and clerks. Together, the programmer, tabulation supervisor, manager and presiding judge prepare and conduct the three logic and accuracy tests required by the Texas Election Code.
A central accumulation station is subject to the same general rules as a central counting station, but votes are actually counted at the precinct and then accumulated electronically. The same procedures for receiving electronic media and processing such media is handled in the same manner that a central counting station would handle receipt and processing of voted ballots in ballot boxes.
The Manager is in charge of the overall supervision of the central counting station and shall have a written plan for operation of the central counting station. The Manager, as well as the presiding judge, may appoint clerks to perform duties at the central counting station.
The Tabulation Supervisor is responsible for counting the ballots and preparing the necessary reports such as the canvass, and the over and undervote reports. The tabulation supervisor may appoint one or more assistant tabulation supervisors. If the tabulation supervisor is not the programmer, the tabulation supervisor must approve the program used to count the ballots prior to election day. The tabulation supervisor is responsible for the security of the program. The tabulation supervisor is to ensure that no other person other than assistant tabulation supervisors operate the tabulation equipment.
The presiding judge and the alternate judge are appointed in the same manner as polling place officials provided in Section 32.002 of the Election Code. The presiding judge has the same authority as an election day judge with respect to maintaining order and administering oaths. This authority also includes resolving any questions about voter intent on a ballot. If the central counting station manager determines that ballots will be duplicated or manually counted, then the clerks will duplicate or hand count the ballots, but the presiding judge will resolve any questions concerning voter intent. The presiding judge may also confer and advise the manager and tabulation supervisor on the operation of the central counting station. The alternate judge serves in the capacity of the presiding judge, if the presiding judge is absent. Otherwise, the alternate judge performs the duties assigned by the presiding judge. The presiding judge is the custodian of the testing materials prepared for the test until the materials are delivered to the general custodian of election records following the third test. If personnel are granted temporary absence from the central counting station while the polls are still open and the counting of ballots has begun, the presiding judge shall supervisor those absences.
After the tabulation supervisor has prepared the necessary reports for canvass, the presiding judge must certify their accuracy and prepare documents for proper distribution. If the results are being transmitted via modem to a central counting station, the presiding judge is responsible for comparing the results transmitted with the results printed at the precinct and delivered to the central counting station. The presiding judge must also deliver counted ballots and other election materials to the proper authority.
Preliminary Sort of Ballots Before Counting
Ballot Box Security
Before election day, several decisions must be made regarding the handling of the ballots. The governing body, when establishing the central counting station, must follow Subchapter C of Chapter 127 of the Texas Election Code. The ballot box used at the precinct for the deposit of cast ballots must be locked and sealed (called pre-locked and pre-sealed) prior to the election judge picking up the box for use on election day. The lock and the seal must be on the same hatch of the ballot box, which prevents the box from being opened unless both the lock and the seal are removed. The slot of the box for depositing ballots must also be sealed either with a wire hasp seal or a paper seal, depending on the design of the box. The slot of the ballot box for depositing ballots must be resealed before delivery to the central counting station. Before sealing the slot, the election judge must complete a ballot and seal certificate stating the number of ballots in the box, as shown by the number of voters who signed the signature roster (or combination form), the number of provisional ballots as shown on the list of provisional voters and the serial number of the seal used to seal the slot. The original of the ballot and seal certificate must be deposited in the box before the seal is placed on the slot.
Receipt of Ballot Boxes
The presiding judge at the central counting station (the “central count judge”) or his or her designee is responsible for receiving the ballot boxes at the central counting station; any reference in this memo regarding actions of the central count judge should be taken to include a counting station clerk acting as the judge’s designee. A list of the serial numbers of the seals used to seal the ballot boxes before election day and a list of serial numbers of seals given to the election day judge to use to seal the slot of the box on election night must be prepared and given to the central count judge. When the central count judge receives the boxes, the judge must make sure the serial numbers of the seals used to secure the boxes before election day and at the close of the polls are the same as the serial numbers on the lists. Once this check is made, the central count judge must issue the election day judge a receipt confirming the ballot box serial numbers. If there is a discrepancy in the serial numbers, the central count judge must make a notation of this on the receipt. The original of the receipt is then given to the election day judge, and a copy of the receipt is kept by the central count judge. The central count judge must inspect the box for its contents and make sure all the records are delivered with the box; the judge must check that the ballot and seal certificate is delivered in the ballot box.
Sorting, Duplication, and Voter Intent
The central count judge will instruct the counting station clerks to do a preliminary sort of the ballots before counting. The clerks must first separate out the provisional ballot envelopes from the other ballots and verify the number of provisional ballots received in the box is the same number as shown on the list of provisional voters. The provisional ballots are delivered to the general custodian of records along with the list. The other ballots are then sorted for write-in votes, partially-invalid ballots, damaged ballots, and irregularly-marked ballots. This sorting must be completed before ballots are counted. After the ballots have been sorted, they are delivered to the manager of the central counting station (the “manager”). The manager may deliver irregularly-marked ballots to the presiding judge to determine whether the voter’s intent is clearly ascertainable. The manager will determine whether ballots are to be duplicated for counting by the voting system or whether they will be hand-counted. If the ballots are to be duplicated, the presiding judge shall have his/her clerks duplicate the ballots. It is the presiding judge that has the authority to determine the intent of the voter if there is a question on the ballot. The duplication team must record the serial number of the original ballot on the duplicate ballot and visa versa. After making the appropriate determinations and taking the appropriate actions, the manager shall approve the ballots for counting. If the manager determines to hand count these ballots, the presiding judge shall assign his/her clerks into tally teams to perform the hand count.
Counting Write-In Votes
Since all ballot boxes will be pre-locked and pre-sealed, thereby preventing election day judges from having any access to voted ballots on election day, write-in votes must be counted at the central counting station. After the ballots have been hand-sorted and any irregularly-marked ballots are resolved and duplicated if necessary, the ballots will be sent to the tabulator machines. The tabulators can be set to stop when a ballot containing a write-in vote is counted. These ballots may then be set aside to be delivered to a tally team to count the write-in votes for the declared write-in candidates. It is important to keep track of these ballots to ensure that, after the manual tally of the write-in votes is completed, the ballots are returned to the box containing other ballots for that precinct and stored properly.
Tabulation of Over Votes & Under Votes
Section 127.1301 of the Election Code requires the tabulation of over and under votes by office and proposition and by election precinct. The tabulation device may do this automatically. If not, the central counting station manager will have to provide a record of this information by hand. The record is preserved with other election records for the twenty-two month federal retention period and for the 60-day preservation period, as applicable.
Proper Testing of Ballots and Programming
Three tests are performed when using electronic voting equipment. All three tests are conducted using the exact same test data. The first test is conducted at least 48 hours before election day with a public notice being published in the newspaper at least 48 hours before the test. The second test, which uses the same test data, is performed immediately before the official ballots are to be counted. The final test is performed immediately after all ballots have been counted.
Each political subdivision is required to have a test deck of ballots for every precinct. The test deck must be prepared on the same ballot stock as the official ballots. The test deck must include over and under votes in every race, straight party voting for every political party printed on the ballot, cross-over voting in every race when marking a straight party vote, an individual vote for every single candidate printed on the ballot, emphasis voting for candidates within the same party column as the straight party mark, and write-in voting. Some vendors will supply a pre-completed test deck for you, but we strongly recommend that you devise your own test ballots. The vote totals on the test must be determined before running the test deck through the tabulator; this is accomplished by manually counting the test deck and tallying up the votes prior to running the ballots through the tabulator. After the test is run, print out a cumulative report showing the vote totals of the entire test deck for each candidate or proposition, a report showing these vote totals by precinct, and the report that shows total number of ballots counted for that precinct. The precinct reports must include the number of over and under votes for each race. Also, compare your return sheet with the official ballot to ensure all candidates are represented on the report from the test. If the public test is successful, secure the test deck with the program until election day.
A successful second test must be conducted before the official ballots are counted. After the second test is complete, follow the steps above for verification of the accuracy of the test. Once that is determined, preserve the results of the second test and zero out the tabulator and accumulator before counting the official ballots.
If the third test performed after the official ballots have been counted is unsuccessful, your count of the election is void. You must first determine the problem with your programmer, correct the problem, run a successful test, and then recount all ballots.
Checks and Balances for the Central Counting Station
- All ballot boxes are delivered and comparison of serial numbers of seal and log is made to be sure the correct seal has been placed on the box, according to the log of distributed seals. Wire hasp seals are properly kept.
- All election records are received at central counting station.
- Ballot and seal certificate is located in ballot box.
- Ballots are sorted and resolved or duplicated before delivery to tabulation supervisor. Provisional ballots are delivered to the general custodian of records with the list of provisional voters.
- All voted ballots are carefully tracked as they move through the counting station. Some counties create “tracking sheets” that follow each precinct’s ballots, and a clerk signs off on the sheet at each stage in the counting process (sorting, duplication when necessary, beginning counting, finishing counting, to storage area.). This ensures that all ballots are counted and that none are counted twice.
- Duplicated ballots are properly noted and the serial number of the original ballot is written on the duplicate ballot and vice versa. Original ballots that are duplicated are placed in an envelope designated for such purpose and are locked in the appropriate ballot box with other ballots from the same precinct.
- All ballots are counted and verified against the ballot and seal certificate.
- Status report is printed and it is verified that all precincts had been counted.
- Precinct report is printed showing the number of ballots counted for each precinct.
- Cumulative report is printed indicating all votes from all precincts are included in the cumulative report.
- The audit log is examined for counting interruptions, unauthorized equipment tampering, or any other activity that might make the vote totals questionable.
- All reports are printed in number of copies statutorily required.
- Precinct returns are backed up to disk or tape if applicable to system.
- For precinct ballot counters using prom pak (or other device), precinct returns printed from prom pak at the central counting station are compared to the precinct returns printed at the precinct level, to ensure that that precinct totals match.
If you use DRE equipment at the precinct, the election judge must secure the MBB or prom pak in the same manner that an election judge would secure the voted ballots. Special bags that have a lock and seal have been approved by our office for purposes of transporting the electronic media from the DRE to the central accumulation station.
- For precinct ballot counters using modem transfer, a comparison of returns transferred via modem to the central counting station is made with precinct returns printed at precinct level.
- The third test is successful and results are verified with test results.
- All ballot boxes containing voted ballots are properly locked, with an indication on the outside of each box showing which precinct’s ballots are contained in that box. Keys to ballot box locks are properly distributed. For ballot boxes that have a flap to cover the slot for the deposit of ballots, a log recording the serial number of the wire hasp seal used to seal slot is kept and signed by two election officials.
- If you use precinct ballot counters (optical scan), you will need to have the ballots removed from the tub and locked and sealed along with a ballot and seal certificate.
Checks and Balances for the Central Accumulation Station
- Proper logic and accuracy testing of the accumulation software is required before the election night results may be accumulated as prescribed in Election Advisory 2008-09. The test must be designed to determine whether the central accumulator system accurately tabulates results from the electronic files used to count ballots voted in the election. The electronic files created from the Logic and Accuracy testing for the election must be used in the process of this test.
- A test is successful if a perfect count of the electronic files, that contain the cast vote records (ballot images) and/or device results, is obtained and the central accumulator system otherwise functions properly during the counting of the test electronic files.
- Election Night Verification. After uploading the precinct results to the central accumulator system, the election official must verify and document that the central accumulator’s record of number of votes cast matches the number of signatures on the combination form or ballot and seal certificate for that precinct. If there is a discrepancy, the Manager of the Accumulation Station determines if a further audit is necessary.
- Prior to the local canvass, the election official must verify that the vote total(s) printed at the precinct match the reports generated by the central accumulating system.
Following these procedures ensures that state law is correctly followed, but perhaps even more importantly, ensures that the election authority has taken all precautions to ensure accurate election night results. If you have questions about any of these procedures, please contact the Elections Division toll-free at 1-800-252-2216.