Election results could be slower in November, Tulsa County Election Board warns

VIDEO: What changes you can expect to see on 2020 election day

TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa County Election Board is warning voters election results may not roll in as fast as they have in previous elections.

Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman told FOX23 News this week that the number of absentee ballots that will need to be processed could delay the release of election results after the polls close on Election Day.

Freeman said it’s anyone’s guess when it comes to how long it will take to verify and then process all of the absentee ballots that continue to come in by the hundreds every day to the election board office near downtown Tulsa.

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“We’re getting three, four, even five hundred absentee ballots in every day,” Freeman said. “That’s not just what is coming in the mail every day, but it’s also people personally bringing them here because they for whatever reason don’t trust the post office or want to see their ballot actually gets here instead of trusting the system.”

Oct. 15, 2020 - Tulsa County voter personally hands in his completed absentee ballot at the Tulsa County Election Board in mid-October. Many are preferring to hand in their ballots personally because they don't trust the U.S. Postal Service after recent controversy surrounding a slowdown of mail delivery nationwide.
Oct. 15, 2020 - Tulsa County voter personally hands in his completed absentee ballot at the Tulsa County Election Board in mid-October. Many are preferring to hand in their ballots personally because they don't trust the U.S. Postal Service after recent controversy surrounding a slowdown of mail delivery nationwide. (FOX23)

In the past, absentee ballots and early votes came in within 15-30 minutes after the polls closed, and the election board waited for precinct workers to bring their voting machines back to the election board building to have their counts tabulated and then reported to the public.

Procedure dictates absentee ballots must be counted first, and with many people voting absentee this year, Freeman said it could take hours to get the first numbers out because the absentee verification and processing will take time with tens of thousands of absentee ballots coming in until the polls close.

“It’s anyone’s guess at this point,” Freeman said. “If everyone turns in their ballots early and doesn’t wait until the last minute, we can keep the system going at a good pace, but as we all know, people love to wait until the last minute.”

The Tulsa County Election Board is working 12 hour days, seven days a week now through the end of the election to verify as many absentee ballots as they can before Election Day.

Tulsa County already broke its all-time high record of how many absentee ballots it’s mailed out for a single election, and that number continues to grow until the absentee application deadline passes on October 27th. Freeman said she expects record returns, but it’s possible some who applied for an absentee ballot may not return theirs for whatever reason.

State law says absentee votes cannot be counted until the polls have closed on Election Day, but in order to comply with state law while keeping the process going this early, the absentee ballots are being fed into the machines once they’re verified, but no one is allowed to access the tabulated data from the machines until after the polls close.

“The only thing the machine tells us at this point is how many we’ve received,” she said. “In terms of who got what votes, and how many votes, we do not know. We cannot know at this point.”

An increase in mail-in voting is expected nationwide, and it’s likely some states may not have any final results to report for days if not weeks as they work through their process of verifying each ballot and then counting it.

It’s not clear if any of the candidates will declare victory on Election Night, but both candidates were told during the first Presidential debate that doing so would be very premature in the vote-counting process even if they are ahead by the time many people go to bed.