Explainer: What’s a “Canvass”?
On Monday, at 11 a.m., the Elkins council will convene in public session at the Phil Gainer Community Center as the Elkins Board of Canvassers. The purpose of the meeting is to canvass the election that was held Tuesday.
What does it mean to “canvass the election”?
The canvass is a crucial step in finalizing the vote tally from an election. On election night, election officials at each polling place count the votes after the polls close, documenting the results on a sworn, attested document that is then provided to the city clerk for the purpose of announcing preliminary results.
The emphasis is on the word preliminary, however, because the election night tally does not necessarily include every valid vote that was cast in the election. It does not include provisional ballots or on-time absentee ballots that arrive between election day and the day of the canvass.
In this year’s election, all requested absentee ballots had already been returned by election day, but this is not always the case. Records submitted by poll workers indicate that there are 31 provisional ballots.
At the canvass, council, assisted by the city clerk, accounts for the total number of paper ballots, used and unused. Then, council considers each provisional ballot, one by one, to determine whether it represents a valid vote.
Ballots are marked as “provisional” when it was not possible to verify their validity on election day. For example, if a voter does not appear to be registered in the ward where he or she is trying to vote, the ballot will be set aside as provisional in an official envelope marked with the voter’s information and an explanation of the basis for considering it provisional.
One legitimate reason voters might try to vote in a given ward despite apparently not being registered there is because they have recently moved. Another legitimate reason could be that there was an error in the registration records. Of course, there could be illegitimate reasons as well, up to and including even attempted voter fraud.
At the canvass, before opening the envelope and without identifying the given voter to council, the clerk presents to council the reason for each ballot’s provisional status. If council can be satisfied that (1) the given explanation is legitimate and (2) that the voter did not already cast an absentee ballot or vote in person at another ward, the envelope will be opened and the vote added to the official tally.
If a provisional ballot cannot be verified as valid, it is not opened and the votes contained therein are not added to the official tally.
After the canvass is concluded, the results of the election become what state code calls “declared” and all provisional and non-provisional ballots are once again placed under seal. This seal may only be broken in the event that a candidate requests a recount.
Candidates have 48 hours from the time the canvass adjourns to request a recount in writing to the city clerk. At the same time, they must also post a bond, usually $300, to cover the expense of the recount. (Council will be establish the bond amount for recounts in this election at the canvass meeting.) Forty-eight hours after adjournment of the canvass, council reconvenes as the canvassing board to “certify” the election results in any ward for which no recount request has been filed.
According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Recount Manual, after a written request for a recount has been received,” the board of canvassers has 48 hours to send notice to all candidates who filed for the office in which a recount has been demanded.” The recount “cannot be earlier than 3 days after notice is served on all parties.”
Click here to view the preliminary results of the 2021 Elkins Municipal Election–but keep in mind that these totals may change (slightly) on Monday.