June 7, 2012 - Behind the scenes as Butte County's vote is tallied
Paper: Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)
Title: Behind the scenes as Butte County's vote is tallied
Date: June 7, 2012
Author: Ben Mullin - Staff Intern
OROVILLE — Voters swarmed the county building in Oroville up until 8 p.m. Tuesday, casting their votes for state and national representatives in the primary election.
When the polls closed, the building emptied. But in an office in the basement, a group of about 20 workers held their right hands up and swore by the Constitution to count Butte County's primary election votes honestly.
Before they left the polls, voting inspectors sealed ballots into boxes, plucked memory cards from voting machines, and packaged them for delivery to the office of the Butte County Clerk-Recorder's office in Oroville.
And at 8:10 p.m., election officials in the clerk's office milled around, and prepared for the votes to arrive.
Among the challenges of counting the votes lies in duplicating the ballots that are partially filled in or covered in check marks, said Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candy Grubbs.
"You'd be amazed how many people don't understand 'fill in the bubbles'," Grubbs said.
Out of about 67,000 mail ballots sent out by the County Clerk's Office, about 24,300 were returned before election day.
The election is notoriously unpredictable. One candidate who trails far behind in the early mail-in results can "zoom to the top," when election day ballots are counted Grubbs said.
In the Clerk's Office, light chatter is punctuated by whispered conversations or the occasional ringing of phones.
"Everybody's primed and ready to go, but nothing's happening," said Linda Koch, a representative from the Butte County Grand Jury who came to make sure the votes were counted properly.
Outside, five people stood huddled around a collapsible white table, waiting for cars bearing votes to arrive.
When a white van with the first box of ballots and memory cards finally pulled up to the assembled counters, they cheered and carried the votes into the office, where it was marked off and taken to be processed.
As the ballots and memory cards were brought into the room, recording supervisor Kathy Lackey scanned each one to make sure it was accounted for. Some of the boxes took several swipes with the scanner, but Lackey took it in stride.
"By the time I get to the hundredth box, I'll be a pro," she said.
During the rest of the night, the ballots were scanned and counted by optical scanners — 12 gray plastic machines mounted on wooden boxes. The results were then transferred onto memory cards, which were downloaded onto a server and then uploaded to the Internet.
"Tonight, our goal is to get all the cards tabulated, out of here, as fast as we can," assistant county clerk Laurie Cassady said.
The office has 28 days to verify the votes, but it doesn't intend to take that long to tabulate them.
Before the first delivery of ballots arrived, a custodian poked his head in the office and asked Grubbs how long they planned to be down in the receiving center tallying votes.
"'Till we quit counting," Grubbs replied.
Section: News Local
Record Number: 20802201
(c) 2012 Oroville Mercury-Register. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.