Voting line

Election Board officials Sarah Schubert (left) and Teresa Posey sanitize pins and clipboards as people wait in line to cast their vote Oct. 31 at the Rogers County Election Board in downtown Claremore. Voter turnout was record-setting in the county for this year’s elections.

Voter registration surged, turnout was historic, and some people were upset when it was over.

That describes the 2020 U.S. elections. It also describes Rogers County, where voting went relatively smoothly but was followed by thousands of angry calls to the Election Board office from people concerned their vote may not have been counted, a county official said.

The state Election Board's website allows voters to access their voting history, but it didn't immediately reflect votes that were cast in the Nov. 3 election.

"People were panicking, because it wasn't showing yet," said Rogers County Election Board Secretary Julie Dermody, who emphasized that all votes were counted, but the process of getting those "credited" in voter history records takes some time.

"They went to the poll, they signed the book, they put their ballot into the machine, their vote counted," Dermody said, noting absentee ballots also were counted.

The Election Board office received more than 6,000 calls in the eight days from Oct. 28 (the day before early, in-person voting began) until Nov. 5 (two days after the election). Not all those calls were about voting records, but a great deal of them were. And people were upset. They worried something "nefarious" was happening, Dermody said.

The processes of updating voter records and counting votes are not the same. The verification process for voter history records occurs after votes are counted. In that process, the votes someone cast for a candidate or issue remain secret to Election Board officials. Those officials review things like registration books from in-person voting and information included with absentee ballots, Dermody said.

Two election board staff members continued reviewing documents Thursday to update voter histories, she said.

"I have one person that just finished all the absentee credits, those that sent in absentee ballots," Dermody said. "She just went through all of the envelopes that we received and re-verified. I think she found probably about 30 or so that had not received the proper credit for having sent their ballot in. So, we got that put in as well."

Dermody said this is part of a normal process that's often more low-profile.

"It's never been an issue before. We've always done these double checks, and we get worried about voters hollering, because they didn't know," she said. "… If it hadn't been for the national concern all around that votes were not counting or somebody is doing something nefarious, which is not happening in Oklahoma … everybody, their votes counted. They just have to let us have time to put it in."

As for conducting an election during a pandemic, things went relatively well, Dermody said.

"We had a few little issues, but nothing major at all," she said. "Little things that happened. People ran out of this, or people ran out of that. We tried to take care of that as soon as we found out."

"I think the biggest complaint that we got was about people flying their flags on the back of their pickup trucks too close to the polling location. We went out and pleaded: 'You guys park over there and walk,'" Dermody said, referring to electioneering laws that prohibit the support or opposition of any candidate within 300 feet of a polling place.

In the months before the election, Rogers County had a big rise in voter registration. Between Jan. 15 and Nov. 1, the county added 3,897 Republican voters, a 12% increase, according to data from the State Election Board. On the Democrat side, the party lost 22 registered voters. Republicans (36,981) now account for 62.2% of the electorate, compared to Democrats (14,051), with 23.6%. The number of independents rose by 673, to 8,107 (9.1% of county voters). Libertarians added 97 and have 319 (0.5%) in the county.

"The numbers definitely moved to the Republicans for sure," Dermody said.

The Republican party accounts for 50% of registered voters statewide, with Democrats at 33.2%, independents at 16.1% and Libertarians at 0.7%

By election time, those voters were turning out -- whether with absentee ballots, early in-person voting or at the county's 36 polling places on Nov. 3. According to data from Dermody, the Election Board:

* Sent 7,682 absentee ballots, a record far exceeding 2016's previous record of 2,980;

* Received 6,293 absentee ballots, eclipsing 2016's record of 2,395;

* Recorded 7,627 early, in-person votes, surpassing the record of about 5,000 in 2016.

Dermody said the feedback from poll workers, who staffed sites across the county, was positive.

"For the most part from what I hear back from my poll workers, everything went very well," she said. "The voters were extremely kind and extremely thankful for their service. I think that's great they did that for our people."

She also said the Claremore Pizza Hut was "amazing" because they provided "pizza for all of the precinct locations inside the city limits, which was a huge blessing. We had a couple of other benefactors in some other precincts that brought lunch to my people.

"Those kind of humanitarian feel-good, warm-fuzzy things happened as well, and that's really exciting that that happened."

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