“It’s exhausting.” That’s how Clifford Tatum, the executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, describes the work that has taken place after the Nov. 4 general election. Though the campaign signs are coming down, public attention has shifted away and most of the top-ticket races — mayor, attorney general, D.C. Council seats, the marijuana legalization initiative — were settled after votes were tallied on election night, work has since continued for Tatum and his staff. That’s because as with every election, the elections board is charged with counting every ballot that’s properly cast. The bulk of those come during early voting or on Election Day — 25,750 residents voted early, while 125,606 voted on Nov. 4. But for those residents living outside the city, or those who fall into a number of categories that may require that they vote using a special — or provisional — ballot, their votes are counted in the two weeks following the election. For the general election, that adds up to a lot of ballots — close to 6,000 absentee ballots and over 20,000 special ballots.
On Saturday, Tatum and over a dozen workers hunkered down in the elections board’s office, slowly chipping away at the thousands of special ballots that had to be counted. It’s a time-consuming process, Tatum explains: first the special ballots have to be sorted, and depending on the category of the ballot, the voter’s eligibility has to be checked. If they filed a change of address, their file on the city’s voter rolls has to be updated. The process of sorting the special ballots can take between three and five minutes per ballot. And it’s only after the ballots are sorted into categories — same-day registrations, voting out of precinct, change of address — that the votes can even be counted.
Through last Friday, the elections board staff had sorted and counted 6,390 special ballots. (Along with absentee ballots, an additional 12,379 votes have been added to the Nov. 4 results.) It’s a quiet toil, and as Tatum concedes, one that largely goes unnoticed since the ballot counts won’t change the results of most of the bigger races. But for some of the city’s most local contests, he notes, every vote counts.
“What we’re seeing from the absentees and the thousands of same-day [votes], it did not impact that upper-ballot contests, but it will certainly could impact the school board contests and ANCs,” he says, referring to Advisory Neighborhood Commission races. As we reported earlier this month, over a dozen ANC races remained too close to call after Election Day — and some have gotten closer as absentee and special ballots are counted.