Public can sign up to observe ballot canvassing in person

Public can sign up to observe ballot canvassing in person

Spots are limited; livestream available

| Published:

Montgomery County election workers can be seen reviewing mail-in ballots through two livestream videos on Oct. 20.

Video capture from Montgomery County Board of Elections

As ballots flow in during the final days before Election Day, election workers are busy counting votes.

Over the last three weeks, ballot canvassers have sat at more than 25 tables spread out in a gymnasium at Plum Gar Recreation Center in Germantown, sorting through ballots and counting them.

The process looks different this year thanks to COVID-19. It’s the first year that canvassing is taking place outside the Montgomery County Board of Elections office. Election judges are wearing masks and gloves, and are distanced from each other throughout the room.

Election judges began opening and reviewing mail-in ballots on Oct. 6. Ballot scanning began on Oct. 19.

The cavass process will continue until all ballots have been scanned and counted.

Election officials have organized a way for the public to observe the canvassing process.

There are 13 seats available for the public, two of which are reserved for the two main political parties’ designees. Seats can be reserved for two-hour increments.

The seats are at the bleachers placed to one side of the room. An additional three spots are reserved for media members.

The public will be required to wear masks and physically distance from others while they are in the recreation center.

Reservations for observing the canvass can be made by calling 240-777-8549.

For those who would prefer to observe from home, there is a live video stream of the canvassing online.

Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy election director for the county, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday that canvass observing is like “watching someone else watch paint dry.”

“The process rarely attracts many observers, and this year has been no exception,” she wrote. “We have not had more than a few observers at one time. In case there is a sudden increase in interest, though, we do have the reservation system in place.”

The Board of Elections has had at least one problem pop up with canvassing so far.

On Wednesday, the board released a statement regarding a video that showed an election judge writing on a ballot. Someone who saw a video clip of that shared it online, insinuating that it showed a worker tampering with a mail-in ballot. The video clip got a lot of attention online, forcing the county Board of Elections to hold an emergency meeting, look into what happened and issue a statement.

It turns out the worker didn’t do anything wrong.

As part of the canvassing process, election judges review ballots to make sure oval bubbles completely filled in with a dark pen. Otherwise, the ballot-scanning equipment might not accurately record the vote.

The board explained in its statement that if the oval bubbles are not completely filled in with a dark pen, a canvass worker can darken the voter’s selections with a black pen.

“This has been a regular part of the canvassing process for many years and is necessary for the voter’s ballot to be scanned and thus counted,” the board wrote in the statement. “The Board of Canvassers has an obligation to ensure that each ballot reflects the intent of the voter to make sure every vote counts.”

The board’s attorney reviewed the video and concluded that the election judge’s actions were to darken the voter’s selections, according to the statement.

“The board attorney found no evidence of fraud or improper conduct,” the board wrote. “However, for the purpose of transparency and to assure voters who may be watching via the livestream of the integrity of the process, in the future, canvassers will only darken ovals while being observed by an election judge of another political party.”

Ballots can be challenged remotely. A person filing a challenge must submit a scanned and signed copy of a form. The board would consider the challenge and determine how to proceed.

The next dates for canvassing (starting at 9:30 a.m. each day) are:
● Tuesday
● Thursday
● Nov. 5
● Nov. 7

Additional dates have yet to be determined.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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