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Some Jackson County voters cried foul after vote totals on the county web site changed late Tuesday night. Others complained about issues with ballot boxes.

Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt believes the complaints stem from voters misunderstanding the process.

When the polls close on election night, the ballot boxes are taken from the polling places to the courthouse for the ballots to be tallied.

“The standard process on election night is that all precincts come in first. Once 100 percent of precincts are in, then we add all early votes and mailed ballots. This year we had more than 5,000 early and by mail,” Reinhardt said.

When the precincts were counted Election Night and totals put on the results page of the county clerk’s website, some Republicans had more votes than their Democratic opponents, such as the race for county clerk. Republican Jay Wittenborn was ahead with 7,902, to Democrat Frank Byrd's 7,783 votes. 

The ballots cast by mail, formerly called absentee ballots) and in early voting, changed those totals, and in some cases changed the outcomes of the election. Wittenborn had 9,250 votes to Byrd's 10,236, making Byrd the winner so far. 

Reinhardt said more Democrats voted early, about three to one over Republicans.

If those ballots had been counted first, the web site would have shown 100 percent of the precincts in with only those votes and no actual in person voting.

In Jackson County, like many other counties across the country, voters turned out in record numbers for this midterm election, both for early and in-person voting on Election Day. The county had 5,330 people either vote early or request to vote by mail. Reinhardt is still waiting on 600 to 700 mail ballots to come in.

He added that some people who requested a mailed ballot voted on Election Day on provisional ballots. Those will not be counted until Nov. 20. They have to make sure those citizens only voted once.

The ballot box issues were easily fixed at the polling places, but it may have made some voters uneasy. A law passed about 2009 requires the ballot boxes to kick back any ballot that is over-voted or under-voted.

“On years of midterm election, the law requires that devices notify a voter they have over voted a race, but also if they have under voted or skipped a race,” Reinhardt said.

He estimates that 50 to 60 percent of voters skip a race or two, mostly on purpose. They may not know any of the candidates or they may not want to vote for a political party they do not like. This is our third midterm under the law.

“We election officials were opposed to this when it came up because we knew it would confuse voters and be a problem for judges,” Reinhardt said. “If voters are opposed to this, they need to contact local legislators to repeal it.”

Those at the courthouse when votes were tallied may have seen a familiar low-tech piece of equipment used – a blackboard. Because the county IT person was out of town at a training, the chalk board was needed to help in the vote tallying. Reinhardt said it was fitting because he used the board in his first election as county clerk, and this was his last election as county clerk.

Reinhardt hopes clarifying the issues helps put voters at ease.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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