If recent history is any indication, upwards of one million Oklahomans will cast a ballot in the Nov. 8 general election.
County election officials have started processing tens of thousands of mail-in ballots. Early voting begins today, Wednesday, Nov. 5, and runs through Saturday. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day.
Election administration in the U.S. is largely a state and local issue, with state legislatures crafting laws that dictate when and how people may vote, how ballots should be counted and how results are reported.
In anticipation of election day, Oklahoma Watch has prepared a guide on how Oklahoma counts ballots and certifies election results:
When and how are mail-in ballots counted?
The state election board authorizes county election officials to begin processing mail-in absentee ballots in the days leading up to an election. This allows results to be reported quickly after polling places close.
A bipartisan group of county election officials is appointed to process mail-in ballots. State law prohibits results from being shared before 7:00 p.m. on election day, when in-person voting lines close.
How do Oklahoma’s voting machines work?
All 77 counties use custom-made eScan A/T devices to read and count paper ballots. The ballot will be immediately rejected if it’s entirely blank or multiple choices are selected for one candidate.
Once a ballot is inserted, read and counted, it is deposited into a secure bin at the bottom of the device. County election board officials will transmit results to the state election board via a virtual private network once all ballots have been counted and voting materials returned. Oklahoma’s voting machines are not connected to the internet.
When and how are ballots transferred from precincts to the county election board office?
The inspector, who acts as the lead precinct official, delivers the ballots to the county election board office in a sealed transfer case. The ballots are stored for a minimum of two years and may be retrieved in case of a recount or post-election audit.
When will the election results be known?
In previous elections, most precincts have been able to report results within a few hours of the polls closing. However, unforeseen technical issues or other circumstances may delay the immediate reporting of results.
When may a candidate request a recount?
Oklahoma allows any candidate to request a recount by 5 p.m. on the Friday following an election. The requesting candidate must pay in advance for the recount but are eligible for a refund if the recount causes the election results to change.
The state’s default recount method uses voting devices, but the candidate may request a manual recount for an additional $300 fee.
What does the recount process look like?
In a manual recount, county election board officials will open transfer cases of ballots and assign them to a bipartisan group of counters for review. If there is a dispute about the validity of a ballot, the county election board will take up a majority vote to determine whether or not it should be counted.
When voting machines are used, the devices are tested for accuracy in the view of witnesses at the start of the recount. Counters will then insert ballots from transfer cases.
Affected candidates or individuals may have a watcher present at both manual and electronic recounts. This person may submit a written challenge of any counting decision to the county election board, which will make a final decision.
What happens if there’s a tie?
If a recount confirms or reveals a tie, the winning candidate is drawn at random at a public meeting of the appropriate election board. For instance, a tie in the governor’s race would be settled at a state election board meeting while a tie for a county commissioner seat would be resolved at a county election board meeting.
The election board secretary is mandated to write the names of both candidates on separate sheets of paper and place them into a container. The secretary may draw the names themselves or assign a designee to select a piece of paper. The first name drawn wins the election.
When are Oklahoma election results certified?
Per state law, the state election board will meet by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday following an election to certify all non-contested results. Contested results are certified once the matter is settled, either through a recount or withdrawal of the contest.
Does Oklahoma have a post-election review process?
Under legislation enacted in 2019, the state election board secretary holds the authority to request a post-election audit. While audit results cannot be used to modify election results, the reports are made public and may be used to improve the administration of future elections.
The state election board completed its first post-election audit in July, evaluating the results of the June 28 primary election. Thirty-three counties were randomly selected to recount a sample of ballots cast in one or two races. In all counties, there was no discrepancy between the certified election results and audit results.
Have questions that weren’t covered in this article? Contact Democracy reporter Keaton Ross at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers democracy for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss.