Here’s how mail-in ballots are counted in Collin County

Collin County has already begun counting mail-in ballots. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Collin County has already begun counting mail-in ballots. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Collin County has already begun counting mail-in ballots. (Courtesy Fotolia)

The Collin County Elections Office has already started counting mail-in ballots.

On Oct. 23, the last day to request a mail-in ballot, Collin County had already mailed out more than 43,000 mail-in ballots. The county had received back 21,000 mail-in ballots, and 18,000 of those had already been processed by the ballot board, Collin County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet told Community Impact Newspaper.

Mail-in ballots allow residents to vote through the United States Postal Service without having to show up in person to the polls, whether for early voting or Election Day. In Texas, voting by mail is restricted to those age 65 and older, those who are disabled, those who are outside the county throughout the voting period or those who are in jail but otherwise eligible to vote.

Counties with populations of 100,000 or more were able to start processing their mail ballots as soon as early voting ended Oct. 30. This was the case for Collin, Denton, Tarrant and Dallas counties. Smaller counties of fewer than 100,000 people are not able to start processing mail-in ballots until Election Day.

Traditionally, only about 5% of the Collin County votes consist of mail-in ballots. But this year is different, Sherbet said.

“We’ve doubled the number of ballots we would normally send out in a presidential election,” he said. “The COVID[-19] situation has required a lot of people to try to choose to vote by mail versus in person.”

The ballot board’s job is to examine returned mail ballots and verify signatures. A ballot could be rejected by the board for additional reasons as well, such as if two people mailed in their ballots in the same envelope. But Sherbet said it is a very small number of mail-in ballots that end up being rejected. His team works on the front end to ensure ballots returned are valid, such as checking for signatures.

“We’ll send it back to the voter and give them a heads up that, ‘You need to cure this because we can’t send it over to the board or they’ll reject it this way,’” he said.

The biggest issue comes when people return their ballots after the deadline or they surrender their ballot at a polling place so they can vote in person, Sherbet said.

“There’s lots of different iterations of things that happen with mail ballots, but the ballot board is a pretty straightforward process,” he said.

Ballots for most voters must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than the day after Election Day, or Nov. 4, Sherbet said. Special cases apply for overseas or military voters, who have a five-day period of sending their ballots back as long as they are shown to have been mailed by Election Day.

In the period following Election Day and the five days to process mail ballots for military or overseas voters, the county is processing provisional ballots. These can be ballots that could not be processed as normal due to situations such as if a voter did not show up as registered to vote or said he or she never received a mail ballot. Sherbet estimated Collin County will have about 6,000 provisional ballots this year.

All mail-in ballots received by the time polls close on Election Day will be counted that day, Sherbet said. Early-voting totals will be released at 7 p.m. on election night and will include everybody who voted in person as well as most of the mail ballots, Sherbet said. Any remaining mail-in ballots will be posted along with in-person votes in Election Day cumulative results, starting at about 8:30 or 8:45 p.m. Updates will be interspersed throughout the night until the county is done counting, Sherbet said.

“It could be 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, depending on how much work is to be done on election night,” he said. “In other words, you don't stop and say, ‘We'll start back up tomorrow.’ You just continue and go through until you're done.”

Most presidential elections will be done by 1 a.m., for the most part, he said. But Sherbet is predicting record turnout for this election and estimated it could be 3 or 4 a.m. before all the counting is done. Most of the votes in the county will come from early voting, he said.

“Collin County tops the state in the percentage of turnout, early votes, as it relates to the registered voters,” Sherbet said. “We did it four years ago, and we did it two years ago. This county loves early voting.”
By Miranda Jaimes

Editor, Frisco & McKinney

Miranda joined Community Impact Newspaper as an editor in August 2017 with the Grapevine/Colleyville/Southlake edition. In 2019 she transitioned to editor for the McKinney edition. She began covering Frisco as well in 2020. Miranda covers local government, transportation, business and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Miranda served as managing editor for The Prosper Press, The Anna-Melissa Tribune and The Van Alstyne Leader, and before that reported and did design for The Herald Democrat, a daily newspaper in Grayson County. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Oklahoma Christian University in 2014.