OKLAHOMA CITY — Primary election results may start rolling in later than usual Tuesday due to record high numbers of Oklahomans voting via mail-in ballot.
However, election officials said they expect to have everything tallied by the end of election night like normal.
In all, nearly 141,400 Oklahoma voters requested permission to vote by mail ahead of the June 30 primary, according to statistics released by the State Election Board.
The number of requests already has exceeded the 2016 presidential general election — 123,000 — and the 2018 general election — 95,000, said Misha Mohr, a State Election Board spokeswoman.
As of Friday morning, nearly 61,000 mail-in ballots had been returned.
“We have been encouraging people to request absentee ballots when the COVID-19 emergency was put out,” Mohr said. “We started encouraging people to use the absentee ballot system as a safety precaution.”
She said a statewide question to decide Medicaid expansion along with a plethora of municipal and school board issues may be drawing interest. Communities postponed planned April elections until June because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mohr said.
“This is kind of unusual all together,” she said. “We have a state question that has been in the news. We have a ton of local elections that are on the ballot.”
Mohr said elections will still be determined Tuesday night, but officials may be working later than normal to process them because of the high number of people planning to vote by mail.
The Oklahoma County Election Board, which received more than 47,750 mail-in ballot requests — or nearly a third of the state’s total — received special permission to start processing mail-in ballots earlier in order to try to avoid election night processing backlogs, said Doug Sanderson, the county’s election board secretary.
He said when the county election board meets to process the ballots, the results are stored on flash drives and locked away until election night when the data is inputted into the machine.
Not even Sanderson, who is overseeing the process, knows the results thus far.
Despite the head start, Sanderson suspects the county’s results may come later than normal because mail-in ballots can still arrive until 7 p.m. Tuesday. No absentee ballot results — including early in-person voting tallies — can be released until the final mail-in ballot is processed.
“It’s not uncommon to receive through the mail special delivery from the postal system a ballot after 6 p.m. on election night,” he said.
The Muskogee County Election Board plans to hold a special meeting Monday to open and verify mail-in voter affidavits, said Kelly Beach, the county’s election secretary.
“Most usually we don’t need to do this Monday meeting,” he said. “Because of the numbers (of ballots) we sent out, I decided to go ahead. We won’t be opening the ballots. Those will be counted on election night.”
He said the county sent out 1,109 ballots. During the June 2016 primary, it only mailed 316.
Still, Beach said he doesn’t expect any delays on election night.
“We’ll be in good shape,” he said.
He said in-person early voting has gone smoothly thus far. His county has seen an increase in early voting participation.
“We’ve moved where we usually hold that to a bigger space, and it’s really worked out well,” he said. “I’m really pleased with it.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.