have letter openers on hand Thursday, Nov. 15 when Ellis County Commissioners open envelopes holding ballots yet to be tabulated from Tuesday’s general election.
Maskus is well aware the race for the 111th District House of Representatives is hanging in the balance, and generating lots of anticipation.
“We’ll have an area where people can sit and view the process,” Maskus said Wednesday, explaining what the procedure will look like for counting the remaining ballots at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St.
The individual ballots, each one in a large envelope, will be delivered for opening to the county commissioners gathered in the County Commission room in the basement of the center at 5 p.m.
“Nothing will be opened until Nov. 15,” Maskus said. “I’m not going to open anything until the canvass.”
Armed with letter openers, the commissioners will open the envelopes, remove the ballots, and place each one in the ballot box, without looking at any votes. From there, the ballot box is removed by members of an election board appointed by Maskus. The board members then either hand count or scan each of the ballots for votes, she said. The process will likely take at least a couple hours.
It’s possible the commissioners won’t even touch the ballots, Maskus said, but it’s up to them.
“Usually they all help each other out,” Maskus said. “We have letter openers there for them to use. But it’s however they choose to do it. They can shake the envelope and jiggle the ballot into the ballot box.”
State statute mandates the election canvass. That process includes outstanding ballots requiring additional review or those that are arriving yet by mail. All are reviewed and counted to determine the official final vote. The County Clerk’s office processes the ballots and presents the results to the County Commissioners, who certify the results as official.
At the close of Election Day counting on Tuesday, Republican Barb Wasinger, who is also an Ellis County Commissioner, was leading incumbent Democrat Rep. Eber Phelps by 40 votes. Wasinger has 4,259 votes, or 50.15 percent, to Phelps’ 4,219, or 49.68 percent.
County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, who is Wasinger’s campaign co-chair, told the Hays Daily News on Wednesday that he sees no need to recuse himself from the process. Wasinger, when asked, said she’ll cross that bridge later. Haselhorst said it’s possible she might, since she did for the primary.
Phelps said Tuesday that Wasinger should recuse herself from the canvass.
Still remaining to be counted are more than 196 provisional ballots that were cast in precincts voting on the 111th, 39 advance ballots, and an unknown number of mail-in ballots that can arrive by the end of the day Friday and be counted as long as they are postmarked Election Day.
Provisional ballots are paper ones being reviewed because a voter might not have had their identification, or they changed address after registering, or a variety of other reasons. The advance ballots are some that were picked up by a voter during early voting and then dropped off at the polls on Tuesday.
Turnout for the election was heavy, with 58 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. Supplies of paper ballots ran out at some polls on Election Day, Maskus said. As a result, some of the provisional ballots being counted Nov. 15 will be photo copies of a printed ballot, which were made when supplies ran out.
The election board doing the counting on Nov. 15 will be made up of volunteers appointed by Maskus. She said she hasn’t yet decided how many she’ll need, or who they will be. Party chairs can recommend people, but the deadline for that was Oct. 8.
“This year by that date there were no recommendations,” Maskus said. “So it’s too late for this election.”
Maskus said she’s staying in close contact with the Hays Post Office so all mail-in ballots are retrieved.
“They are good about telling us when they have ballots,” she said. “We sure don’t want to miss any.” Any ballots arriving after Friday at 5 p.m. will not be counted, or even opened, she said, noting “Saturday is too late.” She’ll report any of those at the canvassing as well.
While curious people are already asking who were the 15 write-in votes cast on Tuesday, Maskus said she’ll report those names at the canvass.
State statute sets the canvassing date as either the first Monday or Thursday after the election. Maskus said the Ellis County Commissioners previously chose Thursday, Nov. 15 at her recommendation to give her office time to review the voters of all the uncounted ballots. For starters, signatures are checked, and addresses are checked to see if the person is a qualified voter.
Those that qualify will have their ballots handed to the County Commissioners on Nov. 15 for the counting process. Any that don’t qualify will also be reported to the canvassing board, but those envelopes won’t be opened and the ballots won’t be counted, she said.