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Mail-in ballot counts underway in Dorchester County despite printing error

Photo: Getty Images

By Patrick Phillips and Kyle Jordan | November 4, 2020 at 2:32 PM EST - Updated November 4 at 3:29 PM

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - The head of the Dorchester County Elections says the county is “slowly but surely” making progress in tabulating more than 13,000 mail-in ballots Wednesday.

Workers began at approximately 8 a.m. with a backup plan to get votes counted after discovering a printing error on the ballots themselves Tuesday that prevented high-speed scanners from being able to read the votes.

“So we’re hoping to finish as quickly as possible but ultimately, we will finish before the 10am Friday certification deadline,” Dorchester County Elections Executive Director Todd Billman said.

County election officials came up with a process to overcome the obstacle the printing error caused.

“There was nothing wrong with how the voters cast their ballot, there was nothing that was going to not allow their ballots to be counted,” Dorchester County Elections Executive Director Todd Billman said. “The issue was, they couldn’t start the scanning process, and so we had to come up with another technological solution to make sure that every ballot gets counted.”

To get around the printing error, workers take the original ballots voters mailed in and a ballot card that would have been filled out if the voter had voted in person, Billman said. Workers mark the ballot card, vote by vote, to match the original ballot. Once one worker completes a ballot card, both the card and the original ballot go to a second person who verifies that each vote is correctly transcribed.

At that point, the ballot cards are then fed through a ballot reader where votes are tabulated, he said.

At first, workers were only able to go through about 200 of the approximately 13,500 ballots that need to be counted per hour. As more staffers have been brought into the process, Billman said they hope to be able to process up to 500 ballots per hour.

Dorchester County election officials say a printing error is causing problems in reading mail-in ballot votes. The row of little black lines, known as timing marks, in the top example were printed too thin and the voting machines couldn’t read the mail in ballots. The bottom example is what the black lines should look like. (Source: Live 5)

The error involved “timing marks” Billman calls the “starting line.” A row of squares the machines use to recognize the start of a ballot were printed incorrectly, he said, meaning the machines could not process the vote counts.

By state election rules, workers could open only the outer envelope of the mail-in ballots beginning on Sunday. But the ballot itself had to remain in a secondary envelope until early Tuesday morning, Billman said. That’s why the error was not discovered until the morning of Election Day.

Billman said as ballots are processed, results are being updated online at SCVotes.org.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Photo: Live 5 News

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