A behind the scenes look at the absentee voting process

Nearly half of Henrico registered voters have already cast their ballots for the 2020 general election. Many voted early in person at the Western and Eastern Government Centers. Others dropped their ballots in the mail or county drop boxes.

The surge in absentee voting has changed the way the ballots are counted. Ballots completed in person are scanned immediately, just as they are on Election Day. Mailed and drop box ballots go through a methodical process before they’re counted.

If you’ve seen the movie “Groundhog Day,” elections workers are living it. It’s been Election Day for them for the past six weeks.

It begins with a team of election officers. One opens the ballot and reads aloud the name of the voter. A second officer looks for the name on the voter registration log to ensure that person is eligible to vote. The election officers must make sure the voter printed his or her name and address on the ballot envelope and signed it as well.

Finally, the team compares the address on the envelope with the address on the log.

“This is painstaking work, but you have to think of that ballot as a voter standing in front of you at a polling place,” said Henrico County Deputy Registrar Anne Marie Middlesworth.

Most ballots are approved and scanned into the system. Those with discrepancies, such as a different address or a missing signature, get rejected. The Office of Voter Registration and Elections then contacts the voter to get what’s needed to make the ballot acceptable.

“Since we’re preprocessing,” explained Middlesworth, “we still have time to reach out to voters to ensure that they have time to correct the issue.”

The sheer volume of absentee votes has challenged the elections officers responsible for validating ballots. They work three days a week and can process 2,000 to 3,000 ballots per shift. So far, they’ve validated and scanned more than 20,000.

“We want voters to know that we are doing everything to make sure that the ballots are received, processed and counted as they would be on Election Day,” said Middlesworth.

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