Gretchen Macht, professor of industrial engineering at the University of Rhode Island, spoke with KidsPost about why. Industrial engineers work on systems and processes. Macht has learned a lot about how election processes work since 2016, when he was asked to help Rhode Island eliminate long voting lines.
“When we count the votes, it takes time because we want it to be right,” Macht said. He said that children can think about it as a turn in homework. “When you rush through that homework, you get it done, but will it be okay? Wouldn’t it be better to go through it to pass your time? “
There is a long tradition of releasing voting machines on election night, but those results are unofficial. “They didn’t double and triple-check,” Macht said. Part of this is that there are many ways to vote and count votes in the United States.
When the founding fathers established the electoral process, they did not include many details. They left to state legislatures the “times, places, and manner of holding elections of senators and representatives,” according to the United States Constitution. As a nation grows and technology develops, the process becomes more complicated.
“We have 50 different ways of working,” Macht said.
Each state thinks about what works for its residents whether they live in big cities, small towns or remote areas.
Voting timing can include voting days or weeks in advance and on election day. Locations can be mailboxes, drop boxes, or polling locations assigned to neighborhoods. and using hand-marked paper ballots that can then be scanned; machines that put marks on paper (mostly from votes marked on a display screen); or machines that feed votes directly into a vote-counting computer system. Hand-marked voting machines are more in use.
After voters cast their ballots on Tuesday, election officials and volunteers have plenty of work to do. Each polling place or precinct is required to secure the ballot papers and then transfer them to the local election office. After they do that, the city or county posts those results on its website. But those results are not official even though all the precincts have completed reporting.
Next is called canvassing. Election officials or a group of people who may be members of each major political party canvass or scrutinize the ballots for possible problems. They ensure that poll workers and voters follow the rules.
“What if I vote by mail and I forget to sign my envelope? I feel like my vote doesn’t count,” Match said, as some voters might think.
But the system is designed to catch that error. Many states allow voters to “cure” or correct that type of problem so their vote can be counted. But election officials have to contact those people and voters may have to attend in person.
Once the local canvass board is satisfied that all the ballots have been counted correctly, the local authorities will check again and then certify or authorize those results. Most states give counties or cities 1 to 3 weeks to complete this process. California, which has about 22 million registered voters, allows 30 days.
They send local results to the state election office, which has its own verification process. Once that happens, officials will certify the results for the entire state.
Sometimes this lengthy process verifies those unofficial results from election night, but in very close elections a different candidate may emerge victorious. There is nothing wrong or suspicious about it. It’s just election officials and volunteers making sure their version of homework is as accurate as possible.
Macht admits the wait can be frustrating and encourages kids to ask questions.
“It’s exciting and you want to know the results,” he said. “Be patient. And if you don’t like the process, you can talk to the election officials. They want to share that information with you.
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