Provisional ballots could change levy defeat in St. Clair Township

LISBON — More than 900 questionable ballots could determine the outcome of several close election issues, including the Salem charter proposal.

Adam Booth, director of the county elections board, reported 919 provisional ballots cast in the Nov. 8 election are still in the process of being reviewed to determine whether they should be added to the election night totals. Provisional ballots are those cast on election day but set aside until staff can determine if the voter was legally registered or voting in the proper polling location.

Depending on how many end up being counted or where they were cast, these provisional ballots could determine the outcome of the Salem charter proposal, and to a lesser degree the Center Township natural gas aggregation issue and the St. Clair Township road levy, all of which lost by slim margins in the Nov. 8 election.

The Salem charter proposal was defeated 2,287 to 2,261, a difference of 26 votes. While the election board staff is still reviewing provisional ballots to determine how many should be counted, they have found that 114 were cast by Salem voters.

The Center Township gas aggregation ballot issue lost by 24 votes out of 1,326 cast, while the St. Clair Township road levy’s margin of defeat was 33 votes out of 3,601 cast. The elections board staff has yet to determine how many of the provisional ballots were from those townships.

Booth said they are still in the process of determining how many of the 919 provisional ballots can be counted, which they expect to complete by Monday. The board will then meet next Tuesday to certify how many of the provisional ballots can be added to the election night totals before performing an official count. The board will meet the next day to approve the results.

Further clouding the picture are 476 outstanding absentee ballots that were mailed out to applicants but have yet to be returned. Any absentee ballots postmarked no later than Nov. 7 and received by the end of business on Friday could also be added to the vote count, provided they were filled out properly.

Provisional/late-arriving absentee ballots rarely affect the outcome of most close elections because the votes tend to fall along the same lines as those cast election day, but the Salem charter proposal could be an exception due to the high number. Still, Booth warned against jumping to conclusions.

“That could change because we have 114 provisional ballots (in Salem), but we don’t know how many of them can be counted. But the trend usually follows election night,” he said.

Most provisional ballots are usually counted. Of the 1,054 provisional  ballots cast in the 2012 general election, 878 were counted. Approximately 141 late-arriving absentee ballots were received that year, of which 115 were deemed valid.

Booth said the math is usually against provisional/late absentees affecting all but the slimmest of election outcomes because so much ground has to be made up.

“You have to overcome the amount you lost by and then win out the remaining votes. That’s why I don’t like to speculate,” he said.