GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The staff at the Supervisor of Elections Office got to work at 5 a.m. every day this week, and they didn’t go home until at least 10 p.m. It’s a routine …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The staff at the Supervisor of Elections Office got to work at 5 a.m. every day this week, and they didn’t go home until at least 10 p.m. It’s a routine they’ve followed every day since the beginning of October.
Their workload won’t slow down until the last ballot is counted during this year’s General Election. Each vote by mail and early vote has to be verified, counted and counted again. And there’s no margin for error.
“At this point, I’m numb,” said Supervisor Chris Chambless.
Chambless is known for being gregarious and direct. His handshakes are firm; his voice is commanding. For Chambless fatigue comes with assuring the integrity of an election, because there is no wiggle room for mistakes or easy shortcuts.
As of Wednesday morning, just six days before the polls finally close on Tuesday night, Chambless’ office had already received 78,000 ballots. That’s more that 47% of the county’s registered voters. Each one of the ballots are handled separately to be counted, recounted and reconciled.
“I think we’re going to be at about 60% [turnout] by Saturday,” Chambless said. “We’ve been working 17 hours a day. We eat lunch about 4 [p.m.] so we can skip dinner. We wrap it up, go home, take a shower and a quick nap and we’re right back at it.
“We don’t want a thank you. We don’t want phrase. We just want our citizens to know the system is sound.”
Vote by mail ballots are grouped into batches. Workers first verify their identification that’s been provided by the voter. Once the envelope is opened and the ballot removed from a protective sleeve, another worker will insert the ballot into the voting machine, and another verifies the ballot has been accepted. As a safeguard, the number of ballots the are compared to the number of envelopes to make sure nothing fell through the crack.
Early voting ballots received the same meticulous care. Ballots are collected at all seven early voting locations and compared to the figures provided by the voting machines at the end of the day. Ballots then are transported to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Once they arrive there, they are counted again to compare the tallies from the poll locations.
The process will be repeated every day until there are no votes to count. There are as many redundant safeguards to protect each vote as there were on the Space Shuttle.
And yet, some still question the legitimacy of the process.
“There are people who already don’t trust the government, and some of that is amplified by disinformation,” Chambless said. “One of the oldest myths is about what used to be balled absentee ballots, now called vote by mail, is they aren’t counted unless it’s a close election. Actually, they’re the first that’s counted. Our first batch was 11,000 ballots. With two pages [of the ballot], that’s 22,000 sheets of paper. We will be processing our third batch by this weekend.”
Chambless expects about an 80% turnout for this year’s election. The General Election ballot also includes races for the Presidency, U.S. House, Florida House and Senate seats and the Clay County school board. There also is an all-important referendum to approve a half-cent sales tax for maintenance projects and the construction of new schools in the county, in addition to six statewide referendums to amend the state’s constitution.
In a matter of days, the current election cycle will end and Chambless group can get some rest. The bitter campaigns, negative ads and endless phone calls and texts by the candidates also will go away.
Many roadside signs will be collected. Others will be left to become little more than weathered and tattered litter that will reminder residents how deeply divided we were by politics.
While the backbiting may continue for days, if not months, at least we finally can begin to look for common solutions to rebuilding relationships and solving problems. We can get back to fixing what’s wrong and strive to making things better for our children and grandchildren, instead of steeping them into a political environment of hate and destruction.
Elections were once about the exchange of ideas and a respectful debate on platforms. Our national campaigns have been far from respectful, and both sides this is the most-important election of our lifetime.
Either way, Chris Chambless’ office will treat each vote with the veracity it deserves.
I’m Don Coble, and I approve that message.