NORMAN — Officials at the Cleveland County Election Board discovered 60 uncounted mail-in absentee ballots Thursday evening. Those ballots were still in the security sleeves, and the district attorney’s office has said they can be counted at the 3 p.m. Election Board meeting today.
“We discovered today a storage box that had unopened absentee ballots,” Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Jim Williams said.
Those ballots were mailed to the election board but were not counted until election day. Unfortunately, when election board employees began running the envelopes through the automated letter opener, it was slicing ballots. They stopped and decided to open the envelopes by hand.
Williams called in more staff to help open and process absentee ballots, which greatly slowed the reporting process on election night.
“If I knew exactly how it happened, it wouldn’t have happened,” Williams said. “I immediately contacted the state election board.”
Contacting the state board is protocol. Williams was instructed to consult with the DA on how to legally handle the situation. The sheriff’s office also got involved securing the ballots.
The DA’s office said the situation creates an “irregularity,” but the ballots can be counted.
Williams said he felt sick about the situation.
“There’s no excuse for it,” he said. “In my job, this is the cardinal sin. I believe in preserving the integrity of the election and that every vote counts.”
Williams said there are internal controls in place that should have prevented losing track of the ballots. He is assured, however, that the security sleeves were in place and that the number of ballots added to the absentee ballots that had been counted equal the total number of absentee ballots they should have.
Williams and his staff worked until the wee hours of the morning the night following the election in order to count all of the ballots.