Worried about Voter Fraud?

Here's what happened to your ballot

At the intersection of West Chestnut and Locust Street, a car drove past and honked once. Another honked twice — not at a bad driver, but in response to a sign posted on the corner.

The sign said “How is Oxford voting?” and encouraged drivers to honk once for Joe Biden and twice for Donald Trump.

Oxford resident and Miami University administrator Katie Pirigyi put the sign out in front of her house the weekend before Election Day as a way for people to show support for candidates. To create the sign, she borrowed Biden and Trump campaign signs from her neighbors, as she didn’t have any. She said her neighbors were happy to help.

“I thought it would be a good way to get people excited about voting and the election in a nonpartisan way,” she said. “It’s really important that everyone who wants to vote should because the government should reflect the people it serves.”

Pirigyi voted early at the Butler County Board of Elections (BOE) on Oct. 7. It was her first time voting early, which she did since she was already in the Hamilton area. An added bonus was being able to get it done as soon as possible.

“You never know with COVID,” Pirigyi said. “I didn’t know what [the week of November 3] would look like.”

Pirigyi arrived at the BOE at 10 a.m. and she was done within 15 minutes. She found the process similar to what it would be like on Election Day. Pirigyi went into the polling place, checked in with a worker and cast her vote on an electronic voting machine.

Pirigyi has voted in every presidential election since she turned 18, six presidential elections in total. 

But after she cast her ballot and received her “I voted” sticker, what actually happened to her ballot? She performed her civic duty, but how did it contribute to the overall results? Most voters, including Pirigyi, have a limited understanding of the voting process beyond casting their own ballot. This includes President Donald Trump, who alleged multiple claims of voter fraud before and after Election Day.

Outside the capital city election centers of Michigan and Arizona, Trump's supporters gathered  chanting “Stop the vote!” 

It’s normal and necessary to count votes after Election Day. Absentee ballots in Ohio are counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received by November 13. It’s also normal for results to change after Election Day as more votes are counted.

“It’s really important to understand that and to know that we’re expecting change,” said Eric Corbin, Deputy Director of the Butler County BOE. “There’s always been change. It’s not going to change a lot, but occasionally, we have results on election night that are really close.”

When elections like this one are so polarizing, it’s hard to have faith in the results, and it’s easy to fear that something will go wrong. But the one thing in an election that can be trusted is arguably the most important: the counting of the ballots, which is done by members of both parties working together.

In order for the voting process to be fair, every job from beginning to end has to be done by two poll workers or election officials from opposing parties. This includes mailing out absentee ballots, checking in voters on Election Day and counting votes.

The exception to this required pairing is if a poll worker is not registered with a party and did not vote in the primary election. Election officials in Ohio are clearly declared members of a political party for there to be a balance.

“There’s a Democrat and a Republican in all stages, and that usually helps a lot of people who call in that have distrust [in the voting process],” Corbin said.

Early voting

For early voting, each county can only have one voting location. In Butler County, voting early occurred at the BOE in Hamilton. 

On Oct. 31, voters formed a line out and around the BOE building. In the middle of several campaign signs lining the road up to the building, one sign directed drivers to overflow parking.

Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties, not associated with the BOE, stood in the parking lot handing out slate cards, which is the only campaign material allowed at the polling location. Slate cards list each party’s preferred candidates.

“Most people are here and they know which presidential candidate they want, but they may not realize there’s a state senate race, there are house races...so I think slate cards help,” said Sheridan Lijoi, the representative from the Butler County Democratic Party.

At first glance, the line didn’t seem long, with about 50 people waiting outside. Inside, though, were just as many people waiting. Despite the length of the line, most voters found it moved pretty quickly at around 40 minutes total. 

One man brought a foldable cane/stool hybrid to sit on while he was waiting in line.

“I’m not getting to use my chair, the line’s moving so well,” he said to other voters around him.

Almost everyone in line wore a mask or face covering, although it was not technically required. Poll workers could not turn away voters for not wearing a mask. One woman wore a shirt that said “Jesus is my savior. Trump is my president” that she had to cover up with her cardigan once inside the polling location. No campaign related clothing is allowed in the polling place which is a procedure meant to reduce voter intimidation by maintaining a neutral space.

Inside, poll workers sat at 12 different stations to check in voters. Plexiglass separated the workers from the voters, a new safety precaution for COVID-19. A purple light lit up at a station when it became available. Several rows of voting machines stood on the other side of the room, spaced out and with dividers, for social distancing as well as voter privacy.

Many voters stopped at the exit to take a picture with their new voting sticker. In addition to the sticker, they got to keep the paper stylus they used to vote on the machines without touching it.

“That was painless, and we got to keep these little paper styluses,” one man said as he walked out of the building to his wife and son, who was dressed up as a superhero.

Nationally, more people voted early and in person than ever before. According to The Washington Post, the amount of people in the US that voted early was equal to 73% of total votes cast in 2016, with at least 101.9 millions Americans voting early. Texas, Hawaii, Washington, Arizona and Montana’s early votes actually surpassed their amount of votes in the 2016 election.

Corbin personally noticed the increase.
“We have completely surpassed anything we saw in 2016,” he said.

Corbin said 58,516 people voted early in person this year, and 53,522 voted absentee, by either mailing the ballot to the BOE or bringing it to the dropbox in the parking lot. Several cars pulled up to the American flag printed dropbox and dropped their ballot in without even getting out of their car.

Absentee voting

As she waited for Election Day, Miami sophomore Autumn Marshall had one question on her mind: Would her vote count? 

Marshall, like millions of other Americans, made the decision to vote absentee in the 2020 presidential election. After having heard rumors that students who requested ballots mailed to their dorms weren't getting them, Marshall had her ballot mailed to her parents' house and returned home for the weekend to fill it out. 

Once her entire family had filled out their ballots, Marshall's father drove them to the Butler County BOE to be sure that they would be in the right hands by Nov. 3. 

In Ohio, voters have been able to vote absentee without an excuse since 1995, when section 3509.02 of the Ohio Revised Code was put into effect. 

Though the absentee system has been in place for over two decades, politicians during this election cycle voiced concerns about voter fraud. Then voters started to worry.

"I'm terrified that a lot of the absentee votes aren't going to be counted," Marshall said before Election Day.

After Nov. 3, she was still terrified. Reports of protesters calling for poll workers to "stop the count" cemented her fear.  

So what happens to an absentee ballot after a voter sends out their request?

Corbin said the process begins at their offices, where workers update people's registration and gather additional information before sending it to the Secretary of State’s office, which then prints all the applications and mails them out to voters.

Once the applications are sent back to the BOE, workers check that the information on the application is correct. After confirming everything, the BOE stores the information in its database until it can start sending out ballots on Oct. 6 — the first day any county in Ohio can start sending votes.

In 2016, the BOE had received 1,400 applications by Labor Day and 30,000 in total. This year, Corbin said it had over 24,000 by Labor Day, and 55,000 by Oct. 23. 

Inside each envelope is a ballot, a return envelope and the verification information that goes with it. To make sure everything is there and correct, the BOE has one Democrat and one Republican election official who cross-reference everything to make sure the ballot matches the info in their database. From there, they run each ballot through a mail machine to seal the envelope and wait until Oct. 6 to mail the first batch out. 

According to both NPR and The Columbus Dispatch, Franklin County — home to Columbus, the capital of Ohio, which is about 100 miles north of Butler County — sent ballots with missing or incorrect issues to around 50,000 voters, accounting for almost 21% of the absentee ballots mailed. 

The Franklin County BOE immediately began work to send correct ballots to voters and said the mistakes were due to a disabled setting on ballot-stuffing equipment and a lack of election workers making sure that ballots were correctly printed and put into the proper envelopes. 

Next, the voters get their ballots, take everything out and mark their selections. As they do so, they'll likely notice the instructions telling them to use a blue or black pen. 

"Hopefully they read our instructions first then mark their selections, but the system's pretty forgiving in that sense,” Corbin said. “So if somebody uses a blue pen or a purple pen or something like that, that's not really a big deal, but we always want them to use black ink.”

Most mail-in ballots ask voters to only use blue or black ink, leading many to believe their vote will not be counted if they use a different color. Often, if the color used cannot be read by the machine, poll workers will copy the results onto a second ballot using legible ink. But some counties — like King County, Washington, according to The Seattle Times — have adopted new technology that allows them to read ballots of any color, even sparkly pink. 

Once Marshall and her family had filled out their ballots, they packed it all up and returned it. There are two ways for a voter's ballot to get back to the BOE: Put a stamp on the envelope and mail it or go to the BOE office and put it in a ballot box. 

"Here, voters have been doing both," Corbin said prior to Election Day. "The ballot boxes have been filling up really fast, and the mail has been heavy as well."

Marshall said she and her family dropped off their ballots at the BOE, citing the long lines and the price of stamps. 

"I dropped it off with the rest of my family," Marshall said. "We just thought it was easier. It was me and my two parents and that would've been what, like six stamps?" 

In May, 318 properly-cast Butler County ballots were delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS) three days after the deadline and were unable to be counted by the state, according to WCPO. All of them were postmarked on or before the date of the election, with the earliest being held for 14 days.

In an effort to prevent similar issues in the 2020 Presidential election, a federal judge ordered the USPS to sweep facilities in multiple battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona for leftover ballots, according to Law and Crime. 

Once the BOE receives the ballots, bipartisan teams take them out of their envelopes, scan the barcode on each of them, and mark them as returned in their logs before scanning them a second time to be sure all the ballots are accounted for. If there are any discrepancies between the two scans, they add in any that weren't originally counted and find any that have been lost. 

Next, the bipartisan teams open and count the ballots, making sure that they get back as many as they sent out and checking for any errors or issues. 

"Occasionally, a voter may have an envelope and forget to put their ballot in it or we've had a husband and a wife stick two ballots into one envelope, so we deal with all those little, tiny problems," Corbin said.

In situations like this, an election official will either fix the ballot themselves or, if that can't be done, they will reach out to voters by phone and mail so they have an opportunity to correct their ballot. 

From there, they take off the stub of each ballot, which removes any identifying information, and scan the now-anonymous ballots into their system. Once they're scanned in, they make sure that the scanner counted all of the ballots and put the ballots themselves into a folder and onto a shelf. 

Due to the massive influx of absentee voting, Corbin said the BOE ran out of space in the room they would normally store absentee ballots in, which forced them to add more shelves and carts to house the overflow. 

Election Day voting

On Nov. 3, poll workers in Ohio arrived at their locations at 5:30 a.m., an hour before they opened for voting. They had met the night before to set up voting machines and tables, but they still had to make sure everything was turned on and that they had all their supplies. For workers at Millett Hall at Miami, this included picking up doughnuts. 

Vicki Wolpert is a Republican and Lori Mills is a Democrat. They teamed up to check in voters.

“I did not know how gratifying it would feel to be with people from the opposite party working towards the same goal of just getting everyone’s vote counted,” Mills said. “It was very eye opening to having faith in democracy all the ways that we check and make sure [the process] works.”

When the polls opened at 6:30 a.m., there was already a line of about 40 people outside Millett Hall. Wolpert and Mills went to work checking in voters. It was Mills’ first time working the polls, and she wanted to work with Wolpert because Wolpert had done it last year.

Mills decided to work the polls this year to help members of the community during the pandemic.

“I wanted to do it because I’m young and healthy, and I know when I vote,” Mills said. “A lot of older people are working the polls. I didn’t want them to have to come out and do that when I knew that I had less risk.”

Mills, 41, is younger than the average poll worker as the majority are over the age of 60. In the 2018 general election, 58% of poll workers were 60 or older. COVID-19 is most dangerous for those 65 and older.

In the morning, they checked in voters. When their station was open, a greeter sent the next voter to them, and they asked for the voter’s ID or proof of address. Due to a lot of out-of-state Miami students voting at Millett, poll workers often had to help students find their voter proof of address on MyMiami, the university’s academic portal, to use as their identification if they didn’t have an Ohio license.

Wolpert or Mills would scan the voter’s license on a touchscreen tablet called a poll book or enter their name manually to bring up a voter’s information. They asked the voter to verify their name and address, then the voter signed the poll book.

Next, Mills inserted a voter card into the poll book which registered the voter’s information onto it. The voter then put the card into one of the voting machines like an ATM which allowed them to choose their candidates and cast their ballot. After voting, they returned the card at the exit table where they also got a voting sticker. The machines and the voter cards were cleaned after each voter.

Wolpert, Mills and voter Gabby Kovachich all expected the polls to be busier and the lines to be longer, but after the initial rush in the morning, voters slowly and steadily trickled in for the rest of the day.

Diane Noonan, director of the Butler County BOE, did expect that Election Day this year would run a lot smoother due to a larger amount of people voting early and an increased number of poll workers. This year, 1,350 poll workers were sent to Butler County’s 86 polling locations, which is almost 100 people more than in previous years. 

Wolpert and Mills, like all poll workers, worked from 5:30 a.m. — before the sun rose — until after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. — after sunset. They stayed at Millet until about 8:30 p.m. to clean up and put everything away. 

Wolpert spent a few hours with Mills checking voters in and then switched places with another Republican to work at the exit desk, where she took voter cards and gave out stickers. She also helped clean the voting machines. Later, she worked as a greeter, welcoming voters and directing them to check in.

Mills spent most of her day at the check-in station, but worked briefly at the provisional ballot desk. When a voter’s address has not been updated or if they requested an absentee ballot but didn’t send it in for whatever reason, they are given a provisional ballot on paper.

Many college students usually change addresses every year, so a lot of them hadn’t updated their address and had to fill out a provisional ballot. Miami sophomore Gabby Kovachich was one of them.

After receiving her provisional ballot, she sat down at a table to fill it out behind one of many dividers decorated with an American flag and the word “Vote.” She accidentally smudged the ink on her ballot and had to ask for a new one.

“I took it to somebody, and I had to show them my ballot, and I was like, ‘Is this going to affect my vote?’ and they saw who I voted for, and I was worried that they were gonna be rude to me because of who I voted for… but they were really nice,” she said. 

After filling out her new ballot, Kovachich put it in an envelope and took it to the provisional ballot desk. The workers there, one from each party, looked over the information on the outside of the envelope to make sure it was correct. Then, they gave it back to Kovachich to seal and put it into the ballot box that goes back to the BOE to be processed.

“They clapped for me when I finished voting because it was my first election,” Kovachich said.

Wolpert was grateful that all the voters were polite and patient with the process and even made a post on the Oxford Talk Facebook group applauding Miami students’ manners.

“Many [students] had to complete provisional ballots, which of course takes more time than on the machines. Some were in the wrong location and had to be redirected, and a few [others] with various issues. Not once did I encounter anyone who was irritated with the process. Not once did I see anyone angry, irritated, rude or annoyed,” Wolpert wrote.

Counting the votes

When someone votes on an electronic voting machine, their choices are stored on a memory card. After the polls closed on Election Day, one of the poll workers’ responsibilities was to take out these memory cards from all the machines and upload the information onto the computers which compile all of the data. They also record every vote on a receipt-like paper in case anything goes wrong with the flash drives.

The computers they use to count votes operate on a closed network and are not connected to the internet. After the data has been compiled, it is loaded onto USB drives and physically moved to an internet-connected computer so it can be uploaded onto the BOE's website. 

It’s a fairly simple process for counting votes from the machines, but counting paper ballots takes more time. 

For absentee ballots, they are taken out of the envelope and scanned. In Ohio, ballots can be scanned as soon as the BOE gets them — they just can't access or compile the data until election night.  

Most of the time voters clearly mark their choices, which can be uploaded without any issues. If someone makes a mistake on their ballot, like spilling coffee on it, marking multiple candidates or having extra marks, the scanner can’t read it, and workers have to look at the ballot on the screen to see what’s wrong with it, which is called adjudication. They then enter that person’s choices manually, which takes longer.

Corbin said that a voter will sometimes mark the opposite candidate that they wanted to choose and write a note on it correcting their mistake. That result would have to be manually added, as would write-in votes. 

Provisional ballots go through the same process but only after being checked by the BOE to make sure that person has not already voted.

The first results to be uploaded are absentee votes, Corbin said, since any votes cast at the polls will still be there at 7:30 p.m. 

"As the night goes on, we actually are adding in our polls' votes, and that's what the media is always waiting for," Corbin said. "For all our polling locations to physically drive their memory cars from the polls back to the BOE where we can upload them." 

Corbin said that it took them about 3-4 hours to scan every ballot received on Election Day. Butler County was able to report results that night, as well as the state of Ohio. The Associated Press declared Trump as winner in Ohio on Nov. 4.

In some states, BOE offices aren't allowed to scan ballots until election night. Pennsylvania, one of these states, still had over 1 million absentee and provisional votes that had not been counted on Nov. 3. In response to this, President Trump claimed that he would go to the Supreme Court and "demand the vote be stopped," since they had "already won" before all of the ballots had been counted, CBS Pittsburgh reported

Election results

According to Corbin, each individual paper ballot that added up to the final results is stored for 22 months after an election in case of a recount and then shredded.

Once all the votes were tallied, Butler County reported 183,155 votes from their 282 precincts. In the Presidential election, Donald Trump won the county with 61.34% of the vote. Joe Biden recieved 37.21%. Behind them, Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen received 1.16% of the vote and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins had 0.26%. 

Warren Davidson, a Republican running for Ohio's 8th Congressional District, won 64.36% of the county's vote. George F. Lang, a Republican running for Ohio's 4th Senate District, won 60.62%. Republicans Sara P. Carruthers, Jennifer L. Gross, Thomas Hall and Paul Zeltwanger won the county's vote for seats in the Ohio State House of Representatives. Sharon L. Kennedy and Judi French, both running for the Ohio Supreme Court, also won in the county. All other candidates on the ballot ran uncontested. 

Corbin said the BOE also received many votes for write-in candidates which could not be counted. This included votes for Ronald Reagan, Jesus and Kanye West.

While the results in Butler County were all in favor of living candidates, a race in North Dakota couldn't say the same. David Andahl, a Republican candidate, was granted a House of Representatives seat despite having died from COVID-19 a month before Election Day, according to CBS.

On Nov. 7, the Associated Press reported that Joe Biden had defeated President Donald Trump, becoming the 46th president-elect of the United States. Upon their announcement, multiple world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, congratulated Biden on his victory. 

Earlier in the week, the United States formally left the Paris Agreement, a set of climate change initiatives set out by the United Nations five years ago. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, France, congratulated Biden on Twitter.

"This victory symbolizes our need to act together more than ever, in view of climate emergency," she said. 

In Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Biden's supporters planned a celebration the night of the announcement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. 

Despite all of this, Trump refused to concede. On Nov. 7, he tweeted multiple assertions that he had won the election. "I WON THE ELECTION, GOT 71,000,000 LEGAL VOTES," one read. "The most EVER for a sitting President," read another. Multiple tweets by the President were flagged by Twitter as being either potentially misleading or disputed. 

In response to claims of election fraud, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a claim stating that this election was “the most secure in American history," according to the Associated Press. 

Despite the President's refusal to concede, Biden gave a victory speech on the night of Nov. 7. In it, the president-elect pledged to be "a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify." 

Biden addressed the divide that he saw in the nation, asking those on both sides to let the "grim era of demonization" end. 

"The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control," Biden said. "It’s a decision. It’s a choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate."

As Biden spoke, he addressed both the American people and members of Congress.

"That’s the choice I’ll make," Biden said. "And I call on the Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me."

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