Inside the Vote: Election results process

With Election Day just one week away, millions of Georgians have already cast their ballots. But according to numbers from the Secretary of State's Office, more than 600,000 voters have still not returned their absentee ballots.

Processing those paper ballots takes significant time and manpower.

Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk says they have already accepted about 8,000 absentee ballots and expect another 4,000 to come in. 

"Oh, it is just massive. I think the biggest turnout we've ever had through the mail before was the presidential election in 2016 and that was 1500 ballots," Kirk told FOX 5.


Larger Metro Atlanta counties like Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton have each had from 165,000 to more than 200,000 mail-in ballot requests.

What does that mean for election results in Georgia?

That's why Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says state elections officials decided to give counties the option to start pre-canvassing those ballots three Mondays prior to Election Day in an effort to avoid delays in reporting results.

"That will allow them to pick up some time because an absentee ballot does take longer," Raffensperger said.

To protect the secrecy of absentee ballots, workers must process them in a secure room.

"They'll go through, open up the outer envelope, separate out the inner privacy envelope and that's to maintain the voter's privacy, count everything to make sure they did it right, go back and open the privacy envelope, batch them in stacks of 50 and then start scanning them," Kirk told FOX 5.

Election workers can scan the ballots, but state rules do not allow them to tabulate them until after the polls close on election night.


Kirk says Bartow County had fewer absentee ballots for the June primary and it still took a full week to process them. The county has added staff and equipment to speed things up for November 3, but Kirk still expects it to take days. He says the sooner people can return their absentee ballots, the better.

"Being able to process them early will allow us to have results--the majority of results on election night. I do expect some counties to be counting ballots--a large number of ballots after election night," Kirk said. "So, there is a good chance we're not going to know the results on election night for the presidential election in Georgia."  

Though Secretary Raffensperger says he only expects delayed results in contests where the candidates are separated by the thinnest margins.


"So, if a race is really, really tight and close, then obviously we look at how many outstanding absentee ballots we have left to tabulate, but we'll be able to make some predictions just because the races will not be close, depending on state House, state Senate, different races," Raffensperger told FOX 5.

Some counties may have delayed results if they get a large number of absentee ballots back where the signature does not match the one on file. That's because voters have until three days after Election Day to prove they actually did cast that ballot.

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