Larry Fotovich can tell you about the waiting game following a close election.
On election night in 2009, he was down by six votes once election officials had finished voting machine tallies. But there were still provisional ballots to be counted – ballots that could be the difference between Fotovich becoming Gardner’s mayor or losing the election.
Provisional ballots aren’t counted until official canvassing, almost a week later.
Fotovich knew prior to canvassing that there were six provisional ballots that would be tallied in the final results in 2009. He didn’t know whether those six ballots might swing the election his way.
“I was down six votes, and they had six valid provisional ballots,” Fotovich said. “I got four of those ballots.”
It wasn’t enough, and Fotovich ended up losing the election to Mayor Dave Drovetta.
Two years later, 10 votes separate Fotovich from a seat on the council and an election loss to Jared Taylor, who finished Tuesday’s election 10 votes shy of a seat. Fotovich placed third in the eight-person race behind Chris Morrow and Dennis Pugh.
Brian Newby, Johnson County Election Commissioner, said his office typically views races within ten votes too close to call prior to counting the provisional ballots.
“In Gardner, that 10 votes – it’s probably not close enough to swing with provisionals, but it’s hard telling,” Newby said.
Provisional ballots are issued whenever someone’s voter eligibility is at issue.
“The most typical is someone that’s moved,” he explained. “You never want them leaving without casting a ballot. There’s no guarantee it will count but at least you’ve had the opportunity.”
If a voter moved between the current election and the last and goes to the wrong polling place, they’ll be issued a written provisional ballot. The ballot may or may not count depending on eligibility. The ballot is placed in a sealed envelope and opened long after the voting machines have retired from the election.
For now, Newby said he believes there are 200 provisional envelopes at the county election office.
“We have to assume they’re ballots. Sometimes you might have a ballot envelope and then the ballot inside is not for the location where the voter was,” Newby said. “Rarely do you have the same number of votes as you have envelopes.”
Election officials later will determine which ballots count.
“It’s all based on laws that say when we can or when we can’t count them. It’s not a smoky room,” Newby said.
Although there’s no guess work involved in counting provisional ballots, Newby said election staff doesn’t like tight races.
“It’s just stressful for everybody,” he said. “We don’t like to deliver bad news that turns to good news or good news that turns to bad news.”
For his part, Taylor said he expects Tuesday’s election results to stand.
“I expect the results to be final on that,” he said. “I think it was a good campaign. The three that were elected are a good mix that will be good for city.”