Everything You Need to Know About Counting Ballot Votes

If you’ve ever volunteered been hand-selected to be a teller at an annual meeting or convention, you know there’s that brief moment of panic when you hope you know what you’re doing and hope you haven’t just screwed up an election or other important vote.

Keeping that panic moment brief means knowing the basics about how to count ballot votes.  Here’s a guide.

Start by Determining the Total Number of Votes Cast

Determining the total number of votes cast is important because that number becomes your baseline for calculating the number of votes needed for a majority.

The following count as “votes cast”:

  • ballots indicating a choice for an eligible candidate or option
  • illegal ballots

The following do not count as “votes cast”:vo

  • blank ballots
  • ballots that don’t indicate a preference
  • ballots cast by persons not entitled to vote

Calculate the Number Needed for a Majority

Once your teller team knows the total number of votes cast, divide that number in half to determine the number needed for a majority. A majority is more than half.

One special note: On a ballot where several offices are listed – e.g., president, vice president, treasurer, secretary – you need to calculate the votes cast and number needed for a majority for each office. A multi-office ballot isn’t a one-size-fits-all operation where you just count the total number of ballots and call it a day.

The reason for the separate calculations? Some members may have voted for some, but not all, of the offices. And a ballot that includes a vote for president and vice president, but for no other offices, is counted in the number of votes cast for those two offices, but is counted as blank (i.e., an abstention) for the others. And on the flip side, a ballot that’s illegal as to one selection isn’t illegal as to all.

Determine if a Questionable Vote Affects the Result

Questionable votes are votes that are semi-intelligible, but not entirely clear. In other words, they can’t be put in the “I-have-absolutely-no-idea-who-or-what-this-person-was-trying-to-vote-for” illegal vote category. But they also can’t be placed clearly in the stack for one candidate or choice.

Say, for example, both Bonnie Smith and Bobbie Smith are members of your organization. It is entirely feasible that someone could vote for one of these individuals as a write-in but not write the name legibly enough for tellers to determine which person is being voted for.

Or, maybe you have Mr. Can’t-Make-Up-His-Mind in your group. His ballot is the one that has an X next to all three people running for president, but then some of the Xs are scribbled through . . . sort of . . . and you’re just not sure who he really meant to vote for in the end.

When it comes to questionable ballots like these, you need to determine whether the vote would affect the result.

  • If you were stake-your-life-on-it sure that the ballot said “Bobbie Smith,” would Bobbie Smith win or lose? If the vote doesn’t make a difference as to the election or vote outcome, stick the vote in the illegal vote stack.
  • If it could make a difference, parliamentary procedure states that you are to immediately take the issue to the assembly and ask them to decide whether that beautiful cursive says “Bobbie” or “Bonnie.”

Strap on your decisiveness hat. Get ready to total carefully. And count ‘em up.