At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, an hour before the polls closed, two supporters of Riviera Beach mayoral candidate Bishop Thomas Masters delivered 300 absentee ballots to the Supervisor of Elections Office. The ballots, collected from city residents, gave Masters enough of a lead to avoid a runoff but they also raised the ire of Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, who presides over the time-consuming process of manually opening each envelope, comparing the signature on the absentee ballot to the voter’s registration and then tallying the vote. Most absentee ballots arrive by mail or are delivered to the supervisor’s office at least a day before the 7 p.m. deadline on election night — when the polls close. That gives Bucher and her staff time to tally the absentee ballots before machines begin counting ballots cast that day at the polls. But when absentee ballots come in at virtually the last minute, as they did Tuesday, ballot counting stalls and it takes longer to get results in all races.
“Your ballots are holding up the whole process,” Bucher huffed to Masters as she reviewed his absentee ballots Tuesday night. During last year’s presidential election, Masters showed up just minutes before 7 p.m. with hundreds of ballots.
Bucher’s gripe with Masters is not unique. With more voters casting absentee ballots and voting laws allowing anyone to deliver absentee ballots before the 7 p.m. deadline, supervisors of elections around the state are voicing the same complaint.
In small municipal elections with only a few hundred absentee ballots, the problem is more of an inconvenience than a crisis. But in the presidential race last November, Bucher and the canvassing board did not finish tallying about 40,000 last-minute absentee ballots until three days after the election.