County board of elections still making sure every vote counts and every voter is right

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    NEWTON-Every four years, Jo Ann Williams hears the stories; some the same, some different. But Williams, who has served nearly 25 years with the Sussex County Board of Elections, has come to know that all the stories she has heard have the same endings. People just want to vote. This year, Williams probably listened to the stories more intently than during elections past. Her office in Newton, like those around the country, was being challenged to implement national election reforms to upgrade voting machines and improve procedures. One of the requirements of the "Help America Vote Act of 2001" called for each state to upgrade voting machines and allow voters to cast provisional ballots if their names did not appear on the voter registration lists in their local voting districts. "There are a lot of liars," said Williams, an administrator with the board of elections. "No matter what, you hear a lot of different stories. People are so desperate to vote. There are a lot of voters who come out once every four years. They all had to vote in this election." In Sussex County, at least 73 percent of all registered voters placed ballots in the November presidential election, with 64 percent supporting Republican George Bush and 34 percent favoring Democrat John Kerry. This year, Williams said about 100 of the close to 65,500 Sussex County residents who turned out to vote took advantage of the new election reforms by casting provisional ballots. She said about 20 of those ballots were cast in Sparta. Typically, voters must vote where they live or cast an absentee ballot if there is a doubt in their eligibility because of residency or citizenship status. The voting reform bill allowed voters to cast provisional ballots when their eligibility was challenged at their local polling places because their names did not appear on the registration lists for any number of reasons including a change of residence. "People put things off when they move," said Williams. "They don't think of the Board of Elections to change their addresses." Voters had up until 3 p.m., at the Sussex County Clerk's Office the day before the general election, to obtain an absentee ballot. Those who did not and still wanted to vote had to make their cases with Williams and the County Board of Elections to obtain provisional ballots. "It's a lot of work," said Williams. "Everyone had to be checked so they didn't vote twice. We had to reject some." Williams said that although the election has concluded, the work of her office has not. She and her colleagues are busy sorting provisional ballots, updating addresses and compiling voter histories to be made available for mailing purposes throughout the year. And then there's the referendum in Andover, she said, and on, and on, and on. "It never ends," she said.