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Making sure they count
No changes after commissioners canvass primary ballots
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Barton County commissioners and other county officials canvass the provisional ballots from last Tuesday’s primary election, Monday morning in the County Clerk’s Office. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Some other highlights and concerns from last Tuesday’s primary included:

• This year marked the second-ever audit of local elections, which are mandated by state law for every election.

“We were 100% on,” said Donna Zimmerman, county clerk and election officer. Volunteers had to hand-count every ballot for a selected national, state and local election.

• “The new voting equipment worked well,” Zimmerman said. They had used it once before for a smaller city/school election last November to work the bugs out of the system.

The only complaint from workers was they could have used more of the electronic devices on which voters cast ballots. These machines cost about $2,800 each.

Zimmerman said the county is looking at finding grants to fund the costs of these, as well as a new, larger trailer to haul them to the voting locations.

These could easily fall under COVID-19-related expenses since more of the machines would accommodate more voters and allow them to spread out better, she said. 

As a side note on the new equipment, the ballot scanner can actually scan write-in ballots.

• “We really struggled to get poll workers,” Zimmerman said. 

The county had 21 boards overseeing 23 polling stations. “That is hard to maintain in a community this size,” she said.

Two years ago, they cut back to nine boards and 11 locations, and this has helped reduce the number of needed volunteers. But the problem remains.

She brings all the workers in for training prior to an election. “That’s a lot to throw at someone,” she said.

This is especially the case during primaries, which are inherently more complex. There were 80 different ballots spread out among the 40 voting precincts.

General elections, like the one set for Nov. 3, are simpler, she said.

Zimmerman said they have recruited some younger volunteers and she hopes they will continue to help. 

• It took longer to set up for the election than it has in the past, she said. This was due to the need for the protective shields and delivery of other personal protective equipment needed due to COVID-19.

In the end, very little changed following the canvass of last Tuesday’s primary election as county commissioners met as the Board of Canvassers Monday morning. 

The commissioners and other county officials, all wearing face masks, packed around a table in a back room of the County Clerk’s Office to sift through the provisional ballots. These are votes cast in the wrong polling places, by voters who moved within the county or changed names, or who were not registered properly.

In all, there were 68 of these with only 62 being valid, complete ballots. After these were counted, no changes in the election outcome were needed. 

They also counted write-in votes.

There were two tied township races involving write-in candidates that were settled by drawing names out of a tin bowl.

First, Wayne Reif was picked over rival Darwin Ferguson after both received four votes for South Homestead Township trustee. Second, Barry Borrer was picked over Connie Hughes for Comanche Township treasurer, with each getting four votes.

Those picked are not required to accept, said Donna Zimmerman, county clerk and election officer.

As for the election, voter turnout hit 39.9%, she said. “That is unheard of.”

There are 16,092 registered voters in the county. Of those, 6,422 voted.

She attributed this in part to the increased use of mail-in ballots. There were 2,909 ballot applications sent to voters with 2,566 being returned.

Despite education through the media and a letter sent with each application, there was still confusion about voting by mail, she said. 

In all, 3,100 residents cast advance ballots with 500 voting in-person at the Clerk’s Office.

There were 935 Democratic ballots cast out of 2,481 registered Democrats for a turnout of 37.69%. There were 5,487 Republican ballots cast out of 9,584 registered Republicans for a turnout of 57.25%.

There are also 4,027 non-partisan voters in Barton County. They cannot vote in a partisan primary.

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Assistant Deputy County Clerk Bev Schmeidler enters provisional ballots into the scanner during the canvass of last Tuesday’s primary election Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune