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Fenton Election Workers Count Absentee Ballots for 22 Hours

High volume of absentee ballots, new system causes major delays in reporting election results.

When Cherie Smith volunteered to help count absentee ballots for the city of Fenton on Election Day starting at 8 a.m., she thought she would be done by 2:30 p.m. and at the latest, 5 p.m.

Later, however as 6:30 p.m. appeared on the clock and her group had not begun to count Precinct 3, with Precincts 4, 5 and whole lot of other verifications to go, she knew she was in trouble and her prediction was way off. She just didn’t know how much.

And 22 hours later when she was finally done just after 6 a.m, she thought, “I have never been so wrong in my life.”

Absentee ballots are usually delivered to the precincts at the polling location, the St. John Activity Center, and entered into the machines by election workers during in-person voting lulls. However, with 1,600 absentee ballots to count, about 1,000 more than usual, officials knew that wouldn’t work. So a team of four was assembled to enter the ballots by hand in its own precinct of sorts at Fenton City Hall.

“I thought we would be reading magazines and playing cards by 2:30 p.m.,” said Smith, who has been an election worker for 15 years. “I thought we had it made."

She said it was very time consuming to manually record the ballots and place them in the tabulator, which she said kept having glitches, sometimes caused by the number of folds in the ballot.

“There were so many things we had to verify. Like the first time with anything there is a learning curve,” Smith said. “We had never done them separately before. We had never had this volume of absentee ballots.”

There had to be three people in the counting room at all times and the group rarely left, except for bathroom breaks, with no phones or distractions.

“If someone would have come in with a toothbrush and toothpaste at 3 a.m., we would have given any amount of money they wanted,” Smith said.

Smith said Fenton was the last municipality to turn in the absentee ballots. Results from the Fenton precincts were finally posted around 4 a.m.

“We kept saying, ‘we have never been so wrong in our lives,’” Smith said. “But I’d do it again. It was a very interesting experience.”

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