Not long ago, the quickest way to get local election results was to station someone at a government facility where results were tabulated in the county clerk's office, printed, and then posted in the building.
Candidates, their supporters, and reporters would phone in results to friends and loved ones, and editors and reporters compiling stories in newsrooms.
As county clerks moved to posting results online, we could watch the results on our smartphones or computers. Sure, there's the occasional snafu with technology and delayed results, but online results have proven a much more convenient and quicker process.
On that note, election results should also be as transparent as possible.
The explosion of mail-in ballots for the General Election was widely reported leading up to Election Day, but when it came to following the local counts online the night of the election, the reporting on clerks' websites varied.
For instance, it was common to see 100% of precincts reporting, which may have led some voters to believe those were the total unofficial counts for the night. But with the large volume of mail-in ballots, and the various timetables for counting and reporting those vote totals, election night results can be misleading. In fact, noting the number of precincts reporting is now almost meaningless.
As we reported leading up to Election Day, county clerks' methods for counting and reporting mail-in ballots differed. Some clerks broke down the online results to include how many mail-in ballots were outstanding and how many had been counted. For voters watching the results on election night, this presents a clear picture of how many ballots are lingering and whether a race may be affected by untabulated mail-in ballots.
In one market, with 100% precincts reporting at about 10 p.m., an editor who called the local clerk learned that 10,000 mail-in ballots were about to be dropped into the results. Those merely watching the results online wouldn't have known this, which could lead to confusion.
As we approach the Consolidated Election in April and with the knowledge that mail-in ballots will likely grow in popularity, we advocate for more transparency on election results websites – specifically having a live count of how many mail-in ballots are outstanding and how many have been counted, throughout the 14-day window leading to certification of results.
This is not a knock on county clerks who had to navigate an unprecedented election with a never-before-seen vote-by-mail count during a pandemic. In fact, we saw very few problems with ballot tallying in our markets.
With this election almost behind us, county clerks can now look forward, and adapt to the new normalcy of vote-by-mail not only with adjustments to their workflow, but also with more transparency online for voters.
Presenting a clearer picture of votes is beneficial to all involved.