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A look inside the election process in Columbia and Richmond counties

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 6:23 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The process for counting mail-in absentee ballots is the same as it always has been, but now it’s just all about the numbers.

“Processes in place are tried and true,” said Lynn Bailey, the executive election director for Richmond County. “They’ve been in existence for decades.”

Richmond County says they’ve mailed out about 34,000 absentee ballots so far -- more than four times the amount in a typical presidential election. Columbia County says they’ve issued more than 21,000. Both counties say about 44 percent of those ballots have already come back.

“The process we have going on today is a process that can be a bit grueling at times,” Bailey said.

To open all those envelopes takes a lot of time.

Each ballot must first be verified, then grouped into batches.

The ballots in each batch are counted by a team of bi-partisan volunteers and only then can the envelopes be opened.

“It’s a tremendous amount of accountability, and if you’re not directly involved in the process, you might let your mind wander and think that how can they possibly protect my ballot?” Bailey said.

Inside the outer envelope, is another envelope. This one doesn’t contain the voter’s name in order to ensure their ballot is secret.

“You open that up, take the contents out, so there’s no way to go back and track that ballot to that voter,” Nancy Gay, executive director Columbia County elections, said.

Then of course all those ballots are counted again.

“At some point, you need to have faith in the process, and realize that there are election professionals around the state of Georgia that are doing this job,” Bailey said.

It’s a grueling process indeed -- all to make sure every vote counts.

In Georgia, all mail-in ballots must be requested by Oct. 30 and submitted by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Columbia County election workers plan to start opening their mail-in ballots this Wednesday, but no results can actually start to be counted until Election Day.

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