About 55 Berks County workers from various departments gathered inside a conference room at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in downtown Reading on Tuesday to handle the operation of processing mailed ballots.
The room, which was organized into three distinct stations where workers could focus on one task at a time, served as the headquarters for opening and counting roughly 15,000 mailed ballots cast by voters in the municipal election that arrived before Monday.
That was completed by about 4 p.m.
The ballots, which had already been verified and sorted by precinct before arriving at the location, were taken from one station to the next. The workers conducting the count had taken an oath before clocking in that they would handle the ballots responsibly.
“Everything is going really smoothly. Everyone is really attentive,” county Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said around 11 a.m.
Barnhardt, who serves as chairman of the election board, said the county would be able to report the results of the initial 15,000 ballots on election night and a tally will be posted along with the results from those who voted in person on the election services website starting when the polls close.
Election officials warned that the results — like those reported on previous election nights — would be incomplete and unofficial. That’s because mailed ballots that were received after Sunday will only be counted on Wednesday.
County officials said that as of 5 p.m. Tuesday a total of 16,312 mailed ballots had been returned, meaning there were at least a thousand or so still to count. And that number may be higher.
Another batch of mailed ballots was expected to be delivered by the Postal Service Tuesday evening, and ballots deposited at ballot drop boxes later in the day Tuesday will have to be collected. The drop boxes were available until 8 p.m.
Of the mailed ballots the county had received as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 11,200 came from Democrats, 3,989 were from Republicans and 1,123 were from voters not registered with either major party.
County officials said a total of 22,032 ballots were sent to voters.
Some of the unreturned mail ballots may have been turned in at the polls by people who decided to vote in person instead. That number will not be immediately known.
There are also provisional ballots that may have been filled out by voters who lost or never received a mailed ballot. Those will need to be checked against the list of mailed ballots received by the county to assure no one attempted to vote twice.
Barnhardt said he’s hoping the widespread use of mailed ballots will help increase participation in the municipal election, which often has a low voter turnout.
“It’s my hope that having two ways to vote generates more enthusiasm,” he said. “This is another option for people who may otherwise not have gone to the polls in the past. The mere convenience of it may appeal to some people.”
Barnhardt acknowledged that ensuring the county works efficiently to count the mailed ballots on top of the already daunting task of manning its 202 precincts throughout the county is a little tough. But, he said, it’s something he had long advocated for.
“It does create more work for us but it’s pleasant work because people are exercising their right to vote,” he said. “And there should be no reason why voter turnout shouldn’t increase.”
Source: Berkshire mont