Note: I originally wrote this on Thursday and planned to publish it on Friday morning. However on Thursday night news broke about some complications at the Chicago Board of Elections and I wanted to take some more time to think about it in that context. (you can read the CBOE's response to these issues here.) But then on Friday we saw some adjusted numbers in Wabash County when they found and corrected a previous error, a normal part of the process and I decided that it still made sense to try and explain this process and to point out that it has enough moving parts that simple errors are a normal part of the process and are not necessarily a sign of fraud or incompetence.
Important note: I am not an election attorney, this is for reference only.
We continue to see vote totals update in the Illinois State Treasurer's race despite the fact that the election was well over a week ago. Since this will go on for a little while I wanted to put together a quick primer with some key dates and explanations about the process plus a small FAQ for some of the more common questions.
11/18/2014 - Deadline to validate and count ballots.
Deadline for the county clerk or board of election commissioners to complete the tabulation of absentee ballots that were (1) postmarked by midnight preceding the opening of the polls on Election Day, and were received after the close of the polls on Election Day but not later than 14 days after the election, or (2) not postmarked at all, but did have a certification date prior to the Election Day on the certification envelope, and were received after the close of the polls on Election Day but not later than 14 days after the election. (10 ILCS 5/19-8)
11/25/2014 - Last day for canvassing.
Last day for canvassing election results by proper canvassing board (county canvassing board or board of canvassers). (10 ILCS 5/18A-15(a), 22-1)
11/30/2014 - tentative date of board meeting of the State Board of Elections to certify the results.
So 11/18 is the last day that the election authorities can accept valid Vote By Mail votes and then they are supposed to finalize their vote totals so the canvass can begin. The canvass must end by 11/25 and by that date the election authorities are supposed to certify their results and submit the certified results to the State Board of Elections and the Illinois SBE is tentatively set to meet on 11/30 to certify the results.
Most counties should have their final updated results sometime by the end of the day on 11/18, although some counties have said that their updated results would not be made publicly available until 11/19. Either way, unless any errors are found during the canvass the final updated totals from each election authority should be available on the 18th - 19th.
Why are only some counties still counting votes while others are not?
This is inaccurate. Every county and municipal election authority can still receive valid, legal votes so every election authority in the state is still going through the process of potentially receiving and counting votes. Some county and municipal election authorities (such as Chicago and Cook County) have been giving regular updates throughout which is why they have received so much attention while most have not provided any new updates since election night. For example, this is what Sangamon County lists on the top of their election night election results page:
MAILED ABSENTEE BALLOTS RECEIVED AFTER 7PM 11/4/2014 AND PROVISIONAL BALLOTS WILL NOT BE INCLUDED IN THESE TOTALS UNTIL AFTER NOVEMBER 18, 2014.
This is the most common method, most counties are not updating their totals with these new additional votes and will not have any further update until 11/18.
For example, see this article on the Champaign News-Gazette about the additional votes expected to be made public in the counties of east central Illinois.
This happens in every election every year. The results announced on election night are not final and the totals that get certified about a month later always include additional votes. Usually the various races are not close enough to be affected by these additional votes which is why most people are unaware of how this process works but everything that is taking place right now in the vote counting process is perfectly normal and typical.
Why is it so complicated to count all the votes?
There are 5 different ways a person can vote and the clerks have to manage and track all of these different types of votes and then take steps to ensure that valid registered voters voted no more than once. This requires that they keep and manage very detailed records yet at the same time they need to protect the integrity of the secret ballot so they have to protect each voter's privacy as well, that is very challenging. Then when it comes time to tabulate the final totals they need to count them by precinct despite the fact that many votes (early vote, vote by mail) were not made in the actual precinct on election day. It would be very easy to make simple mistakes so the clerks take careful steps to ensure they get it right.
Here are all the different types of votes:
What votes are included in the publicly available totals?
In most cases the following types of votes are included in the totals that are already publicly available from each election authority:
- all early votes made prior to election day.
- all election day votes made in each precinct on election day.
- all Vote By Mail votes that were received by the election authority by election day.
What votes are still being counted and/or are not yet publicly available?
In most cases these types of votes are not yet included in the publicly available totals:
- valid Vote By Mail ballots that were received after election day. (a very few election authorities have made these totals available via updates, but very few)
- provisional ballots. Also, I believe that the clerks are treating the same day registration ballots as provisional ballots so those votes are not yet updated as well.
When will all the votes be counted and the totals publicly available?
11/18 is the last day that the election authorities can accept valid Vote By Mail votes and then they are supposed to finalize their vote totals so the canvass can begin. The canvass must end by 11/25 and by that date the election authorities are supposed to certify their results and submit the certified results to the State Board of Elections and the Illinois SBE is tentatively set to meet on 11/30 to certify the results.