The Recounts of Recounts

First, having volunteered for a shift of “get out the vote” phone banking prior to the November 3rd election, I am now on a list of people who volunteered and showed up. This is as close to politicking as I’ve come outside of marching in anti-war protests in the 70’s.

Being on the list gives you ample options for putting shoulder to the cause, mostly from the safety of your home with phone banking or texting. 

When President Trump asked for the second recount, the call came via text and email for observers to represent the Democratic Party of Georgia again. When I saw that there was a slot open for the Cobb County recount, I volunteered. I thought you might find this process interesting so here’s how it worked. 

I immediately received a link to a virtual training session on Zoom. When I joined the appointed time I was greeted by a young man and woman who were the trainers. Together they laid out the goals: 

  • Monitor the county staff as they tabulate. 
  • Monitor the GOP observers and note whether they appeared to be intentionally slowing the process or causing disruption. We were instructed not to deal directly with the GOP observers rather, bring it to the attention of the election supervisor or director. 
  • Monitor the Vote Review Panel if it meets during our shift.
  • Overall, protect the voting rights of all people through observation. 

We also were alerted not to speak to the recount workers. 

Oh, and dress business casual and wear some blue for the party colors. 

With that, I filled out a form and then received an official PDF certifying me as a registered observer for the party. I printed that out and, as required, made my own name tag identifying me as an official observer for the Democratic Party of Georgia. I  took a pen and pad for note taking and Monday morning drove to the recount center at Jim Miller Park for my 9 a.m.-1 p.m. shift. 

It was the closest thing to going to work that I had experienced since January 1, 2019. 

Jim Miller Park is a huge facility which hosts the county fair and where the county built a very large meeting center in which the election team was working. Each meeting room was the size of a large airplane hanger, readied for large meetings of all kinds. For now, Halls B and C were reserved for election work, the majority of which was, surprisingly, not for the recount, but the preparation of mail-in ballots for distribution to voters. The recount team occupied one half of Hall C. The ceilings were 40 feet high and certainly helped airflow in the pandemic world.

I checked in, underwent COVID19 prescreening formalities including temperature check, then walked down the large, long hall to the recount room, through the door marked “Observers” and entered a cordoned off area. This was a limited access space with a dozen chairs reserved for both party affiliated observers and the public. I immediately met Wendy, Amy, Clement and Gail, the rest of my party’s shift of observers. After a brief discussion with them, I presented my credential to Janine Eveler, the director of elections for Cobb County. She took my letter and reviewed the rules: masks on at all times, no cell phones out of your pocket, maximum of three observers on the floor from each party at one time, no speaking to workers, maintain social distancing and direct all questions or concerns to her.

With that, I was on the floor, walking among the “re-recount,” carrying my notepad and figuring out what I was there to do quietly sharing details with my cohorts about what was the process.

I have since found out that according to the Associated Press, there have been 31 recounts in statewide elections since 2000. That’s 31 times in a little over 1,000 elections or 3%. So, I was experiencing very rare ground here in Ground Zero Georgia. Also notable, only three recounts, or 0.3% of the 1,000 elections, have changed the outcome of an election.

Understanding just how rare it is for a statewide recount and even rarer for two recounts, that this the first time in my life to do something like this, and, only on this one 4-hour shift, imagine my surprise when I recognized four people that I knew personally! Even through the masks! Two fellow golfers were GOP observers, one neighbor is a recount worker and one, Ross Cavitt, is the communications director for Cobb County. Ross and I worked together at Channel 2 where he was the reporter for our Cobb County Bureau. Who would a thunk it? Of all the gin joints…

That’s how I got there. Here’s what I observed.

GOP observer stands outside the ropes

Janine really knew her stuff. She was patient, fully engaged, answering, I’m sure, the same questions over and over again. I think that that is her life, especially right now. She gave quick, exacting explanation to what the workers were doing, say, in duplicating a ballot, or cleaning the scanners, or what was in the boxes on the rolling shelving and why are those two boxes labeled in green?

She said that approximately 394,000 people voted in the 2020 Presidential election in Cobb County and this group was recounting all of those votes by running the actual ballots through scanners.

According to Cobb County’s Election website, of those voting, 44% voted in person in advance, 38% voted by mail/absentee and only 18% voted  in person on Election Day.  

I learned that all of the election workers were being paid and that the expense of the recounts would be born by the counties and the state of Georgia. “It’s just the price of doing business,” she said. 

She described the process of the recount for me…

All of the ballots are contained in boxes from the county precincts and are categorized as to whether they were advanced, mail-in or election day voting. 

Each box is coded and sealed with special election tape. That tape has now been sealed, opened, and re-sealed with different colored tape with each recount. 

There were eight scanning stations with teams of three workers assigned to each scanner. They scan the ballots in batches of 50 or less. Each batch is coded with a number that matches it up to the actual scanner. They do this to minimize the number of ballots effected if there’s a failure in the scanning process requiring a fix and rescan.

Another team supported the scanning team by delivering the heavy boxes from the “in-bound” cart to them, one box at a time. Once the scanning process is complete, the batches checked off and returned to the box, the delivery team carries the scanned boxes to workers across the aisle who take the batches out of the box and enter the batch codes onto a form, by hand. They place that completed form on the top of the batches of ballots back inside of the box, re-seal it for the workers to place on the “out-bound” cart. When these carts filled up they were rolled across the room in a secure storage location. 

All of these workers continued their tasks in a precise, methodical, measured and consistent pace. Checking and rechecking. The occasional question was signaled by a raised hand to which Janine or the supervisor would attend. 

It was as quiet as a library. There was no idle chatter, no playfulness, just a straightforward orderly march to the finish line.

All the party observers had full access to walk amid the workers while keeping socially distant. 

The only issue that I witnessed was that a GOP observer was not properly wearing her mask by not covering her nose. Janine fixed that very directly. Cover it or leave. 

You don’t mess with Janine. She was there to protect her staff, and our votes. No BS. 

Before my shift was up I spoke with Janine one last time. I told her how much I appreciated the dedicated work by all in what was clearly a very important yet tedious task and that I had learned a lot just by being there. I asked her if there had been objections or criticism from the GOP side to which she replied, “No objections or criticism, just questions.” Also, there were no ballots that required the meeting of the Vote Review Panel

She added that they had experienced no problems, nothing inappropriate, fraudulent or irregular. Just the boring, dutiful, responsible counting of ballots. 

For the last time! We can all hope. 

Me, Janine hiding behind me, and Ross Cavitt, former Channel 2 reporter, now Cobb Co. communications director

This morning I logged on to a virtual “Georgia Recount Thank You” call with Jill Biden. She offered her profound thanks to the over 400 attendees for voting for Joe and Kamala and for joining in to protect the vote. She was especially moved that we did so in mid-pandemic. 

And now, amazingly, we have a chance to put two great Democratic candidates in the senate and replace two major Trump supporters. In case you missed it last post, here are links to ways you can contribute either time or money or both to turn Georgia Blue!

2 thoughts on “The Recounts of Recounts

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