Employees of the Benton County Election Office in Prosser have geared up again and are processing ballots for the 2020 presidential primary election. As of Sunday March 8, Benton County voters had returned 32,756 ballots.
Amanda Hatfield, Manager of the Benton Council Election Office, recently walked me through each step between the time that the first ballots are received and the time that the election is certified.
- Upon arrival primary ballots are separated by hand into Democratic Party and Republican Party based on the box checked on the envelope. As of Sunday, 753 ballots did not have a checked box that declared a party. Those voters will receive a letter and will have a chance to correct the omission so their votes can count.
- Ballots are then run through a machine ( pictured above) that takes a picture of the front of the envelopes and kicks out ballots that are not signed. Voters who fail to sign their ballots receive a letter and have an opportunity to correct the problem.
- Pictures of the signature side of the ballot envelopes go into a computer program.
- An election department employee goes through the ballot envelope pictures four at a time on a computer to make sure that signatures match those on file. Voters with signature match issues receive a letter and a chance to prove the signature is theirs..
- An election department employee takes approved ballots and removes the cover envelope with the signature and party declaration. On election day, March 10, votes are removed from the inside sleeve and votes received through Saturday are counted.
- On Wednesday votes that arrived by mail or were placed in ballot boxes after Saturday are processed and counted.
- Votes that are postmarked by the deadline 8:00 p.m. Tuesday continue to be counted. Votes with corrected signatures or party designations are counted.
- A trickle of votes continue to be corrected and counted until certification.
- The Board of Elections meets on March 19, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. to address any outstanding issues and certifies the election the next day, March 20.
May 24, 2016, 34,991, votes were cast in Benton County in the presidential primary, 34.37% of registered voters. However, the Democrats had already chosen delegates in caucuses that were held on March 26. Based on early returns for the 2020 primary, officials at the election office predict that participation this year may reach 50%.