CLAY COUNTY, Mo. — For three days, election officials in Clay County gave the KSHB I-Team all access to what happens behind the scenes of an election.
The idea behind the process was to help voters understand how elections work and the steps that are taken to ensure their votes are counted.
Day 1 - Election Eve
It all began the day before Election Day.
On Monday, election workers at Clay County Board of Election Commissioners helped load equipment into the vehicles of Republican and Democrat judges who delivered the equipment to 83 precincts.
I went behind the scenes to see for myself how our elections work. It’s a multi-layered process just to collect and deliver materials and machines to precincts. Our elections are secure. But, don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself on @KSHB41 at 6. Here’s a small clip. pic.twitter.com/YvRWaCN0e1— Jessica McMaster (@JessMcMasterKC) November 7, 2022
In one large room, the equipment spawned over 24 tables. It included things like poll books, voter rosters and pens.
In a backroom, which is normally locked, Patrick Flora, an election worker, stands guard over the tabulators.
"My job is, they (election workers) bring me a poll number and every poll is specific to these machines (ballot printers) and those machines (tabulators)," Flora said. "I match this number (tabulators) with this one (ballot printers), put it on the cart and out it goes.
But, nothing gets put into a judge's car without being signed off on by another election worker, who is posted outside as judges arrive.
Patty Lamb, Republican director of elections for Clay County, showed the I-Team how the staff creates a barrier between the equipment and the judges transporting it to the precincts.
"It’s all got seals on everything, on the memory stick, everything to where it’s all tamper proof," Lamb said. "The judges can’t get in, they sign off and all the judges that work at a poll tomorrow, which is bipartisan teams, equal number of democrats, equal number of republicans at each pool, they will check and make sure that the seals on those machines are the same seals on their chain of custody that we put on ourselves."
Day 2 - Election Day
While equipment is ready and in place for people to start voting on Election Day, the election workers still have a lot of work to do.
In Clay County, 16 roving deputies travel to every precinct in the county to help poll workers troubleshoot.
The I-Team road from precinct to precinct with Art Crabtree, who helped deliver extra pens and answered questions from poll workers about paperwork.
Happening now: ANOTHER check off point and layer in this process. Art (left) let us ride along with him as he helped troubleshoot problems that popped up at precincts. See what they’re keeping track of now. Watch til the end to find out how tired he is. 😂 @KSHB41 #ElectionDay pic.twitter.com/jAvqykZSYZ— Jessica McMaster (@JessMcMasterKC) November 9, 2022
"We just go by and talk to the judges," Crabtree said. "Make sure they have everything they need. If they have questions on anything, questions on paperwork (we assist them). Making sure they know how to close up the end of the night."
Once the polls have closed and the voters have cast their ballots, the election team at Clay County Board of Election Commissioners heads back to the office and waits for the judges to arrive with the machines that hold everyone's votes.
Deputies from the sheriff's office are also on standby to help direct traffic.
Democracy in action and with the help of Boy Scouts. Here’s a close up shot of how secure the process is as those ballots and machines come out of the vehicles. @KSHB41 #ElectionNight @SheriffClayCo pic.twitter.com/BWmhtNxIXm— Jessica McMaster (@JessMcMasterKC) November 9, 2022
The judges arrive two by two: one democrat and one republican in each car.
With help from a local Boy Scouts troop, the machines are pulled from the judge's vehicles and placed on carts.
All the equipment is sealed.
It's then transferred through a side door where Crabtree and another employee are stationed.
Crabtree and his election counterpart verify each piece of equipment that left the day before the election is returned.
Once the equipment is inside, more workers begin processing the machines.
The seal is broken and a key is used to release the USB port out of the tabulating machine that holds the votes.
The USB is placed through a small hole inside of a locked box, which is then transported to a backroom where a republican and a democrat begin uploading the data to a computer that's not connected to the internet.
No one else is allowed inside the room while the data is being uploaded.
Once the numbers are uploaded, information technology staff begins uploading the results to the county website.
Every vote cast gets a paper ballot. Each ballot is bagged and placed in storage.
The workers also tabulate how many provisional ballots were cast.
Then the staff goes home for the night.
Day 3 - Post Election
At about 8 a.m. on the day after the election, the workers return to the office and conduct a post-election audit.
"One of the first steps we’ll do is we take what we call our tally book," Lamb said.
It's all a matter of accounting.
The workers match the amount of signatures on the poll books to the number of ballots cast.
And they’re going to be awhile because here’s how they ensure the accuracy of the results. First they sign an oath for the inspection. On the back you see the tallies for the precincts and their initials… pic.twitter.com/fVmhjhxhCm— Jessica McMaster (@JessMcMasterKC) November 9, 2022
Once those numbers are confirmed to be a match, the tedious part of the post-election audit begins.
"They will do a hand count and they will actually hand count everything and make sure those numbers match up with what we saw on election night," Lamb said. "Make sure those numbers match up with what the machine said on election night."
The statute allows for a margin of error by judge three votes.
"Very small and we don’t even like that," Lamb said.
The audit takes place behind a closed door with equal parts Republican and Democratic workers.
By law, counties in Missouri have to store each voter's ballot for 22 months.
The post election audit ends how the preparation for the election begins: with the machines.
On Monday, the staff will run another test of the machines with a test deck of ballots.
The ballots have various scenarios like over and under voting the machines should catch.
If the machines work properly, it'll shoot the ballots back out with a slip that describes the issue.
This ensures election workers the machines worked how they should throughout the voting process.
It will still be two weeks before the votes are officially certified.
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