On Election Day, I agreed to Coos County Election Observer Rules at the Coos County Courthouse and watched returned envelopes, which contained the secrecy envelopes and ballots, be placed into yellow trays prior to signature verification. After verification, they were transferred to red trays to be mechanically opened. Non-verified signature envelopes were placed in an alphabetized cabinet to await resolution in accordance with Oregon’s Voting by Mail Procedures Manual.
After opening, these verified envelopes were transferred into green trays and placed in a lockable staging area. Individually, a green tray was retrieved and given to a grouping of three horseshoe arranged tables, with one volunteer board worker at each table.
Table one received the tray plus an empty black tray. Their task: to remove the secrecy envelope then pass it right, to the individual at table two. Table one counted the empty envelopes into stacks of 25.
Table two, the middle table, opened the secrecy envelope and removed the ballot then slid it to table three for unfolding into similar stack counts. The now-empty secrecy envelopes were deposited into a locked-container, after re-inspection by staff.
When the entire green tray was emptied, table one counted the envelopes and wrote down their count then passed it to table two. Table three followed the same procedure. There was a silent cheer as the ballot and returned envelopes counts reconciled. The signature envelopes were placed into black trays to be stored for two years.
The tabulation-ready ballots were placed into a specialized cardboard container with a verification document signed by the table two board worker and either Ms. Heller or Ms. Lakey. It was placed onto shelving nearest the tabulation workstation, positioned beneath an American flag. This computerized system was connected to a stand-alone laptop with two external hard drives.
Ms. Heller shared that the tabulating apparatus was purchased for $3,500 from another county and had run only 38,000 ballots prior to purchase. A new one would cost $25,000.
Situations arose. A ballot fluttered to the floor. Permission was asked before retrieving it. Two ballots were accidentally torn but repaired by the Election Director Ms. Lakey. One returned envelope contained two ballots.
For three hours it was constant motion. I peeked out the window as people passed by on the sidewalk, often with ballots in hand.
What I observed was American democracy, a journey well worth taking.