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Hello, Matt:

I was talking to a customer at my business yesterday about the election. I commented that I found it handier to go to the Registrar of Voters office on Ruffin Road and vote rather than my regular polling place. He said you shouldn't do that because they don't count absentee votes unless the outcome is close. Is that true? You always hear the commentators on TV talk about waiting for the absentee ballots to be counted before they declare a winner, so I am of a mind that they are counted. What do you think?

-- Andrea McCarren, the net

I think you need brighter customers. So this whole "one man, one vote" thing, the basis of American democracy, is a lot of hooey? It should be, "one man, one vote, unless it's a landslide, in which case we won't waste our time counting your useless opinion"? Does the registrar just trash those "unnecessary" votes? And who decides if the race is "close"? Too many holes in your customer's logic, I'm afraid. The registrar's office loves to count ballots. The more we vote, the happier they are. Of course all votes are counted; some are just counted sooner than others.

If you vote at the registrar's office, they give you an absentee ballot because you're not at your regular polling place. If you vote at the registrar's office (or your mailed-in ballot is received there by election day), not only is your vote counted, it's counted first, before the ballots that have to be shipped in from the hinterlands or later-arriving absentees.

Absentee ballot envelopes must be signed. That signature must be checked by human eye against the sample signature on the voter's registration card before the ballot is accepted. The sooner you get your ballot in to them, the sooner they can do the tedious work of qualifying it. The envelope is opened, and they pop your ballot into a lock box, where by law it must sit, uncounted, until the polls close on election day.

Ever wonder how the TV folks can have seemingly instant election results? You know-- "The polls have just closed in Weedville, and with one percent of the vote counted, we predict Donald Duck will be the new mayor"? Those early returns are the counts of ballots already received and processed by the registrar's office at poll-closing time. That means you, Andrea.

Usually, absentee ballots are newsworthy only when a race is close and could be decided by the later-arriving, later-processed ballots (absentee ballots mailed on election day or turned in at a polling place). Since this is what we most often hear on the news, that might be where your misguided customer got his daffy "facts." So don't worry, Andrea. You keep votin', the registrar will keep countin'. It's the law.

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