I attended the recount from 2 pm to 5:30 pm today, December 2, 2016. I was in Room 357 observing the recount for Town/City of Verona, Wards 1 - 5. Here are my observations and comments regarding what I observed both before entering the room and while watching the recount process:
1. Due to scheduling issues, I was not able to show up at 8:30 am to "form teams" and select "team captains", as suggested in the e-mail I received late yesterday afternoon. I did not know to whom I should report, and there was no obvious Green Party presence. I only stumbled upon the self-appointed "coordinator" when I happened to overhear a conversation she was engaged in with another participant. The Green Party appears to "have it together" on paper, but lacks "boots-on-the-ground" coordination and follow-through. Nevertheless, we managed to set up a process for observing the recount.
2. I thought that Scott McDonnell and his staff had everything pretty well organized and understood the process they were to follow. They did a good job of briefing everyone and laying out the ground rules once the recount resumed.
3. The Verona recount had been started in the morning, and irregularities were identified from the outset in terms of the total numbers of ballots for each ward in that district. As I gathered from discussion during the afternoon, there were 11 ballots missing for Wards 1 & 5. The belief was that those ballots were in the bags for Wards 2 - 4. The issue appears to revolve around the Verona Deputy Clerk's (Ms. Holly Licht) confusion over how ballots were to be separated, labeled, packaged and sealed once the polls had closed on Election Day. Admittedly, Election Day is a long, exhausting process, but that's no excuse for an official to fail to follow the written procedures. I've worked the polls for the past 3 elections and stayed afterwards while the staff prepare all of the reports and make sure all instructions have been followed. They have a lengthy checklist and Verona's failure to follow that checklist should not be repeated.
While I did NOT observe the entire recount for Wards 2 - 4, by the time I left at 5:30 pm, ten of the 11 missing ballots were accounted for. Officials appeared to determine that once all 11 ballots were accounted for, they would be added in to the entire district's numbers, but the officials were not going to ask tabulators to recount Wards 1 & 5 to include those 11 missing ballots. I didn't see a problem with this, so made no attempt to state any objection for the record.
4. Once the ballots for Trump and Clinton had been separated, and the second count completed, there was a discrepancy in the number of Absentee ballots for Clinton. The first count yielded 415 ballots; the second count yielded 425 ballots. A third recount of those ballots alone yielded 425 ballots, so the board of canvassers determined that the issue was resolved. Again, I saw no problem with this and no need to offer an objection.
5. A few of the tabulators seemed to be spending a lot of time fooling around with smart phones, sending text messages and not necessarily paying attention to the process. I don't know what the policy is on that as far as the Clerk is concerned. It just seemed terribly unprofessional to me.
6. Before they started the recount for Wards 2 - 4, the Board of Canvassers identified a couple of issues with Absentee ballots, remakes, spoiled ballots and originals, that appeared to have been improperly packaged after the polls closed on Election Day. In particular, there were 12 rejected, unopened absentee ballots. Karen Gunderson reported this issue via the hotline and she DID register an objection as advised by Green Party staff and she ensured that objection was entered into the Minutes.
Here's what appears to have happened. Twelve individuals contacted the Clerk and requested Absentee ballots. Staff sent the ballots out, without checking to see if these individuals were considered "inactive". It isn't clear if they failed to follow procedure before sending the ballots out, or if there is some problem with how citizens' registration status is portrayed in the database the Clerk uses to verify voter registrations.
The ballots were completed (we presume, as the envelopes were unopened) and mailed to the Clerk's office. At that time, staff checked the envelopes against the registered voters database and discovered that these 12 individuals were no longer considered to be registered. The Clerk's office states that they contacted these individuals either by telephone or mail. The purpose of this contact was to inform these people that their votes could not be counted until they came to the Clerk's office to register. It isn't clear if they actually spoke to the individuals in question, or if they simply left voice mail messages. I believe Karen also asked Mr. McDonnell to find out if there was any kind of documentation available to support the staff person's statement about phone calls and mail being sent and verifying that the messages had been received and understood.
What concerned us is that voters may not be aware of the fact that they were purged from the registered voters roster and any voice mail messages or written correspondence may have been dismissed as a practical joke, campaign mischief, or a mistake. We both agreed that in this day and age, any or all of these 12 people could have dismissed the messages, because they had received a ballot and voted, and conceivably assumed that all had been resolved. It's also possible the voters simply weren't available to respond in a timely fashion. Of course, it's likewise conceivable that they just didn't care enough (or were physically unable) to go in and register.
What IS clear is that there ought to be a better system for preventing this kind of vote "suppression" from occurring in the first place. If voters are, per State law, being purged from the registered voter rolls, they should be notified in writing by the Clerk's office. Those notifications should be sent by Certified Mail to document that the voter received the message. The clerk's office needs to have a clear and consistent procedure to follow to ensure that an Absentee ballot is not sent out to anyone who is on the "inactive" list.