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.
In addition to these 60 absentee ballots, several provisional ballots also will be counted today at the election board meeting to certify the vote. Of the outstanding provisional ballots, 69 were in State House District 45, which was a very close race between incumbent Republican Aaron Stiles and Democratic challenger Paula Roberts.
Stiles currently has the lead in the election by 18 votes. It is unknown how many of the 69 District 45 provisional ballots will qualify to be counted or how those ballots will affect the outcome of the race.
It is likely that at least a small percentage of the 60 uncounted absentee ballots will be within District 45.
Stiles is a Norman attorney and Roberts is the former Cleveland County Election Board secretary.
Williams was appointed as the election board secretary in March 2011. He replaced Roberts, a Democrat appointment, who had served as the county election secretary since September 1989.
Williams’ career began in 1992 with the Oklahoma State Election Board and has spanned two decades.