The members of the local boards of elections meet as the “local board of canvassers” to review and count mail-in ballots and provisional ballots. These meetings are called “canvasses.”
Members of both political parties must attend the canvasses. Board counsel must be present when the board is deciding whether to accept or reject a vote, ballot, or application. .
Preparing for the Canvass
Before canvassing, the local boards remove the privacy flap covering the voter’s signature on the oath. The envelope is designed to remove the flap without opening the envelope.
If the voter didn’t sign the oath, the local board will contact the voter by email, mail, or phone and try to get a signed oath from the voter. The voter can provide a signed oath by mail, in person, email or other methods provided by SBE. For the 2022 Primary Election, the Montgomery County Board of Elections is piloting a solution that allows voters to submit a signed oath securely by text. The deadline for a voter to provide a signed oath is 10 am on the 2nd Friday after election day.
The local boards start counting mail-in ballots at 10 am on the Thursday after election day - July 21, 2022. This starts what is often called the “Mail-in Ballot Canvass 1” or “MIB 1,” and this canvass can continue for several days.
All local boards will meet on the 2nd Wednesday after the election - July 27, 2022 - to start counting provisional ballots.
All local boards will meet on the 2nd Friday after the election - July 29, 2022 - to continue their counting. This starts what is often called the “Mail-in Ballot Canvass 2” or “MIB 2.” Some local boards will finish counting this day, while others will need more days to finish counting the ballots.
The local boards post on their websites the dates, times and locations of their canvasses. A table with this information is also available here. If you want more specific information about a local board’s canvassing timeline, please contact the local board.
Some mail-in ballots will be counted when the provisional ballots are counted. This helps preserve the secrecy of the votes on provisional ballots. For example, if only one voter in a precinct voted a provisional ballot, it is possible you could know how that voter voted. If five mail-in ballots are counted with that provisional ballot, the selections of the provisional voter remain secret.
The local board of canvassers oversee the canvass process. Teams of two people - called “canvassing teams” - review ballots and the envelopes with the ballots inside. These teams are usually made up of employees of the local boards and temporary staff members and should be of different political parties.
Each team is given a batch of ballots. The team verifies that each mail-in ballot in the batch was timely mailed and received and the voter signed the oath. If it is timely and the voter signed the oath, the team will open the envelope and remove the ballot. The team reviews each ballot to ensure that it can be read by the scanner (e.g., the ballot is not torn, nothing is spilled on it) and the voter’s intent is clear.
If the voter’s intent is not clear, the ballot will be referred to the local board. The local board will follow regulations that define what a valid vote is and what a valid write-in vote is (general election only) and may use SBE’s manual that explains the regulations and has images of acceptable and unacceptable marks.
Readable ballots are transferred to individuals feeding ballots into the scanner or to the local board, and unreadable ballots are referred to the local board or to a team that will create an identically marked ballot that can be read by the scanner.
The process of creating an identical ballot is called “ballot duplication.” A team of two individuals have two ballots - the ballot returned by the voter and a blank ballot with the same contests. The team makes the same selections on the blank ballot that the voter made on the ballot the voter returned. The team members verify each other’s work.
During the canvass, a member of the local board will make a motion to either accept one or more ballots or reject one or more ballots. If there is a motion to reject a ballot, the vote must be unanimous. If the vote on a motion to reject one or more ballots is not unanimous, the local board must count the ballot or vote.There are certain reasons why a mail-in ballot must be rejected. They are:
- The ballot was not timely received. This means that the ballot was postmarked after election day or received after the 2nd Friday after the election
- The voter failed to sign the oath or submit a signed oath by 10 am on the 2nd Friday after the election
- The local board determines that the ballot was intentionally marked with an identifying mark that is clearly evident and placed on the ballot for the purposes of identifying the ballot
- The ballot was issued to an agent and was not in a sealed envelope when it was returned
- The voter was required to submit ID but did not before 10 am on the 2nd Friday
- A voter returned multiple ballots in the same envelope
There are certain reasons why a provisional ballot must be rejected. They are:
- The voter was not eligible to vote the ballot. For example, the voter voted another political party’s ballot or the voter isn’t registered with any political party (i.e., unaffiliated) and voted a party ballot.
- The voter didn’t sign the application or didn’t provide enough information on the application to know who voted the provisional ballot
- The voter voted a regular ballot during early voting or on election day
- The voter needed to provide residency or ID information but didn’t provide it or provided the wrong information
- The local board determines that the ballot was intentionally marked with an identifying mark that is clearly evident and placed on the ballot for the purpose of identifying the ballot
- The ballot envelope was unsealed and there is some indication that the integrity of the electoral process has been compromised
- The voter’s identity was challenged and the voter didn’t provide identity
Sometimes, a voter votes more than one ballot.
- If a voter returns more than one mail-in ballot, the local board will count the ballot with the most recently signed oath and reject all earlier ballots. If the oaths have the same date or neither date can be read, the local board must reject both ballots.
- If a voter votes more than one provisional ballot, the local board will reject both ballots.
- If a voter returns a mail-in ballot and a provisional ballot, the local board will count the mail-in ballot unless the mail-in ballot arrived after the local board counted the provisional ballot. If the mail-in ballot arrives after the local board counted the provisional ballot, the local board shall reject the mail-in ballot.
Observing the Canvass
The canvasses are open to the public. You will be asked to sign in and follow certain rules to observe all canvasses. You can observe the canvassing teams review and open mail-in ballot envelopes and open provisional ballot applications.
The local board will explain where you are allowed to observe. You should be able to observe the canvassing teams’ review of envelopes and applications, but you can’t try to ascertain how a voter voted or physically handle an original election document.
You must direct all questions concerning the canvass process to the Election Director or the individual organizing the canvass. If you wish to challenge a decision of the canvassing board, ask the Election Director or the individual organizing the canvass for the Canvass Challenge Form. Complete this form and give it to the Election Director or individual in charge of the canvass who will put the completed form with the ballot(s) and related documents and set them aside for consideration by the local board. You may only challenge a decision at the canvass at which the ballot was accepted or rejected.
The local boards will release results each day they count ballots. SBE posts the results as they are received.
Contact information for local boards of election can be found here.