by County Auditor F. Milene Henley
I’ve been asked why the San Juan County Elections Office is waiting to count 15 ballots in the Orcas School District Election. At this point, the measure is losing, with 59.73% of votes cast in favor, in an election which requires a 60% majority to win. The Elections Office has estimated that we will count another 15 ballots before the election is final.
There has been some misinformation going around that the measure is losing by “just 6 votes.” The only way to conclude that the measure is losing by 6 votes is to argue that if 6 of the voters who voted against the measure had voted for it instead, then it would have received the requisite 60%. In fact, the measure is losing by at least 15 votes. That is, it would require that the next 15 ballots be 100% in favor in order to push the measure to the 60% required to win.
So, why haven’t we counted those last 15 ballots? First, to clarify, 15 ballots is just an estimate. We don’t know exactly how many ballots we will have to count before the election is over. We continue to receive mailed ballots for some time after Election Day, simply because items may be delayed in the mail. We may also receive signature “cures” for ballots with challenged signatures. The Canvassing Board will review all questioned ballots on February 23, which may generate more ballots to count. February 23 is the last day we can receive ballots, and the day on which we will process, and count, the remaining ballots. The final results will be certified on February 24.
But can’t we at least count the ballots as they come in, rather than waiting until the end? We cannot, because of a fundamental requirement of elections in the United States: Secrecy. If a single ballot came in, and we verified the signature and counted it, we would know exactly how that individual voted. Instead, after we have counted the bulk of the ballots – and this is true of all elections, not just this one – we hold the stragglers until the end, and process them all at once.
It’s unusual that a race is this close, and those final votes may make a difference. It’s frustrating for the district, and for the voters, not to know the outcome. But it is the responsibility of the Elections Office to protect the secrecy of every ballot, and that is what we are doing.
I welcome your questions, at 378-7558, or firstname.lastname@example.org.