Fair elections and the right to vote are integral parts of American society, and as a journalist, I wanted to see what takes place behind the ballot box, so to speak, on Election Night.
And after hearing about the rampant misinformation following the 2020 presidential election, and claims about violations of election integrity, I thought: can we say with confidence an election in Chatham County can’t be stolen? After last week, I feel confidently the answer is “yes.”
Why? It’s because I’ve seen the process of counting the votes with my own eyes.
Last week, after polls closed across Chatham County, I made my way to the county’s board of elections office in Pittsboro to watch the county’s staff and elections workers securely upload election results to the Board of Elections’ web page. I saw every step, every set of checks and balances established to ensure the vote of every citizen is protected and accurately counted.
The entire voting process, of course, is weeks-long, but what elections officials showed me last Tuesday night demonstrated the care taken to ensure each and every single vote in Chatham is cast correctly and fairly.
On Election Day, the five members of the Board of Elections — three Democrats and two Republicans — met at the board of elections office to collect election materials from each precinct. Each tabulator, ballot, provisional ballot, and other important documents were collected by a judge, each individually approved by the board. Tabulators are the electronic machines that people feed their ballots into after voting.
Judges and election officials from the precincts drove to the board of elections office after polls cosed, handing off all the machinery to board members and board of elections employees.
The election officials and board of elections employees went through a checklist for each part of the tabulator. That checklist included documenting the number of votes the tabulator counted and comparing it to the number documented by precinct volunteers, comparing serial numbers to ensure it’s the correct machine from each precinct, checking the seal over each thumb drive containing the final vote counts for each precinct and much more. As board of elections staff would go through each checklist item, two board members — again, one Republican and one Democrat — would observe and make sure everything was done correctly.
After each machine was double-checked, board of elections staff would break a security seal and hand the thumb drive over to the two observing board members. From there, the board members will take the thumb drive to a single computer in the office directly connected via cables to a private network to ensure no electronic tampering can occur.
Results are then subsequently uploaded to the Board of Elections’ computer. Elections Director Pandora Paschal then uploaded the results to the state’s Board of Elections with two board members from each political party observing.
This is done for each of the 16 voting precincts in Chatham; that’s why it can take hours to finish uploading the votes from Election Day and early voting. The work doesn’t end on Election Day, however. The board meets multiple times after the election to tabulate all absentee ballots postmarked by 5 p.m. on Nov. 8, as well as to process provisional ballots.
Official results won’t be finalized until after canvassing, which is taking place on Thursday this week.
Seeing the process first-hand not only helped me to understand what I’ve been reporting on for the last two years, but it provided me — and hopefully you — with additional confidence about what Paschal and others have repeatedly said: there just aren’t issues with voting integrity in Chatham County.
From what I could tell, everyone who was present during last Tuesday’s three-hours-long process of counting each vote is truly dedicated to protecting the backbone of American Democracy. They are the unsung heroes here, and it’s important to recognize all the hard work they do to ensure our voices are heard at the ballot box.
If you are interested in attending Board of Elections meetings, they’re open to the public and are live-streamed onto their website. For more, go to chathamcountync.gov and search for “elections.”
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