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Absentee ballots will be counted earlier
May speed up election returns
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Forsyth County News

In an election change, a handful of people will get a sneak peek at how Forsyth County residents are voting prior to the polls closing July 31.

Under a new state law, the county’s elections office will begin counting absentee ballots at 4 p.m., three hours before the polls close on election day. The move is aimed at quickening the election night return process.

Forsyth County Elections Supervisor Barbara Luth said in addition to staff members, two representatives will be appointed by each of the local Republican and Democratic parties to monitor the process.

The group will be housed in a meeting room, where members will not be allowed to have outside contact.

“Once they go into that room, they are sequestered. Meaning if they have to go to the bathroom, they will be monitored to go to the bathroom to make sure there’s no contact with anything,” Luth told elections board members Matt Blender and Donald Glover during a meeting Monday morning.

“We would have to take their cell phones and any electronics that they have.”

The board discussed logistics, such as making sure it’s a “look, don’t touch” policy for monitors and how to handle a late arriving monitor.

“If you’re late, you’re late. There’s no going back to start over again,” Blender said.

The opening of absentee ballots, which are received by mail, can happen regardless of whether the parties offer a monitor, Luth said.

The only requirement is that “we absolutely have to have three people that are in there with us to actually open anything.”

“We only have 135 [ballots] right now,” she said. “We expect a little bit more by the time it’s over with.

“This may be a trial run for November, because November you know we’re going to have a whole lot more. And when you do have to open that many, that’s what always holds us up at night when we’re doing the counts.”

If the process goes according to plan, Luth said it could shave time off the waiting period, letting candidates and voters know who won earlier in the evening.

There will still be some lag time that night, as all 25 polling places must go through official closing procedures, which some 150 people learned about in recent weeks.

Training for poll workers just wrapped up, Luth said. Each polling place will have four to six poll workers, depending on size, in addition to two assistants and one manager.

Even those who have worked an election in the past must go through training again with each new election, she said.

Glover noted the election’s office handles training poll workers “like a well-oiled machine.”