Why the delay in Southampton vote reporting?

Published 8:13 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

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Southampton County Registrar Lynn Burgess explained that multiple factors led to a delay in reporting votes from the locality on election night, including the method of how precincts report votes to the registrar’s office, the number of early votes, the size and complexity of the ballot, the geographical size of the county and the presence of a write-in campaign.

Burgess noted that this election took longer for the early voting and the by-mail tabulations.

“We had like over 1,700 people vote early in person, so when you go to do the closing tape and close the (voting) machine down, it takes a while longer,” she said. “The more votes that are on there and the more complicated the ballot, the longer it takes for it to do the tabulation process, if that makes sense. This means that it takes longer for the voting machines to produce the tapes with the numbers to collect the unofficial results.”

Later, she said, “Then secondly, and this is probably a great deal of it and something that I was aware of on election night that I needed to address and come up with a better solution (for), and that was each precinct calls into the office here (in Courtland) to give their unofficial results after they’ve read those closing tapes, and that was a rather lengthy process. 

“There were some that couldn’t get through on the phone, and they waited till they got here to give us their results, and so all of that delayed in me getting it all together and then coming in and sitting at my computer and starting to enter the results,” she said. “So I fully own and admit that I need to come up with a better process for getting that task done on election night.” 

She indicated that it is also important to always remember that Southampton County is significantly large, geographically.

“When somebody in Newsoms can’t get through on the phone to me, and they have to finish up their work there at the polling site and then drive to Courtland, all of this takes time,” she said. “And (there were) certainly no complaints from poll workers. I was just using that as an example because Newsoms, geographically, is a good ways away, Ivor is a good ways away from us — we’re spread out really big.”

She noted that the Virginia Department of Elections asked her office to reach out to the candidates before the election to let them know there could be a delay in vote reporting.

“This ballot was probably one of the longest ballots and most complicated ballots as far as how many contests were on the ballot,” she said. “And then we were expecting write-ins.” 

She said that one gentleman had indicated that he was going to do a write-in campaign for a Southampton County School Board seat.

Then she noted that evidently, across the state, there was a lot of chatter about different write-in campaigns.

“So I think that was part of what motivated the state saying we need to reach out and let our local candidates know that it could be a delay…,” she said.

While Burgess acknowledged room for improvement with regard to election night efficiency in her office, she also emphasized that accuracy will remain more important than speed.

“I would just like to recognize that the general public is unfamiliar with the election process, and I recognize their frustrations,” she said. “I would like to ensure the public that the Southampton County Office of Elections is committed to reporting accurate results — accuracy over speed is our standard of stewardship for running fair, secure elections.”