Ballot adjudication: What it is and how it works

 Ballot adjudication: What it is and how it works

Though the intricacies of the process vary state by state, it typically involves a small panel of people reviewing a ballot to determine either the voter’s intent or whether the ballot can be counted at all based on whether the voter was eligible to cast it.

“The whole point of this process is to deal with those ballots where it’s uncertain either whether the person is eligible to vote or how that person has made a choice,” said Rick Hasen, a CNN contributor and election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

The process could be used in the counting of provisional ballots, which are cast when there’s a question about a voter’s eligibility, or to count ballots that, for example, might have gotten “physically mangled in the process of trying to put them through a scanning machine,” according to Hasen.

“When these kinds of garden-variety problems arise, election boards or other bodies have to decide how to treat those ballots,” he said.

Hasen stressed that the process is routine and is not unusual for this election,” but that “we care about it now because of the prospect of a close election.”

The process is underway in a number of the battleground states, including Georgia and North Carolina, two places where President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are locked in a close race. But Hasen said that although ballots in these states are being adjudicated, it’s unlikely that the process will play an outsized role in the overall vote count in those states.
Members of an adjudication review panel look over scanned absentee ballots at the Fulton County Election Preparation Center on November 4, 2020, in Atlanta.

“This process is going to go on in Georgia, but people are only going to care about it if the election is so close that a ballot-by-ballot examination could make a difference in the outcome,” he said.

The adjudication process differs depending on the state and county. In the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, a panel comprised of a Republican, a Democrat and an independent look out for mistakes on ballots.

But in the neighboring DeKalb County, groups of four adjudicators work together — one Republican, one Democrat, two independents — to vote on whether a ballot is OK, and that its intent can be ascertained. The vote is usually unanimous but if it’s 2-2, they call an election supervisor in the room to break the tie, though that’s rarely an issue.

In North Carolina, provisional ballots are adjudicated to determine whether the voter was eligible to cast the ballot.

“Based on the research, county board of elections members make final determinations about voter eligibility. Election results are not finalized until all provisional ballots that are eligible are counted,” according to the state’s Board of Elections website.
And in Nevada, another closely watched battleground state, a “Facts vs. Myths” sheet published by the secretary of state’s office said mailed ballots unable to be read by an electronic scanner are “sent to an adjudication or duplication team, both of which are overseen by a bipartisan election board.”

CNN’s Aditi Sangal contributed to this report.

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