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Mon November 5, 2012
The Ballot Story: From Template to Tablet
Tomorrow its predicted that more than seven hundred thousand Granite Staters will be walking into town halls, school gymnasiums, and church basements. And with pencils and pens, they will fill in their choice for everything from President to Selectman. But have you ever wondered where all those ballots come from? There’s one Concord-based company prints all of them, each election cycle and has been doing so for 30 years. NHPR’s Keith Shields, took a tour and the facility and brings you this story.
Most days of the year, the printers at Capital offset, are churching out glossy paged fine art books that you might find in major metropolitan museums, University Press catalogs and school alumni magazines But come election time, the company starts producing nearly one million ballots that go to polling places across the state.
"The ballots really looking at it from a 5000 foot level is a very straight forward print job, black ink on paper"
Jay Stewart is the President of Capital Offset Company
"What it is is an incredible exercise in organization"
To understand the complexity of such a black and white job, you have to consider this. Each ballot gives voters the choice for President. Then about half will have the candidates for the 1st Congressional District race, the other half will be for CD2. The ballots are also divided between the 5 Executive Council regions and the 24 State Senate districts. Then there are all the state representatives and then each town gets to choose its own alderman, or selectmen, sheriff, and treasurer. That breaks down to 309 unique voting districts with 309 unique ballots.
(printing and cutting sound).
But that’s not the end of it. Nearly half of New Hampshire’s voting districts cast their votes on simple paper hand count ballots, while the other half have their votes tallied through optical scanners, which require thicker paper that needs to be precisely cut.
And if you want more confusion, the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and write in candidates are found in different columns depending on the town. And this changes every election. Denise Conant manages all this ballot printing.
"They have to be rotated . So you can’t just create one ballot and change the name of the town at the top. So basically all the 309 towns are different. Republican may be in the first column democrat in the third and in the next town may be democrat is first, republican is second and libertarian is third. That’s why we spend over 70 hours just laying out the ballot."
The process to design Tuesday’s ballots began in the hours after this year’s September 11th state primary. David Scanlan is New Hampshire’s Deputy Secretary of State
"Immediately after the primary election the SOS office has to separate the winners from the losers for each party and then pair them up for the races that will be on the general election ballots. And we know that we have to do that job very very quickly because we have to comply with the federal Move Act dealing with military and overseas citizens where we have to have their ballots out 45 days before the general election."
And considering that there were only 56 days between the state primary and the general election that’s not a lot of time.
Next comes the deadline for the absentee ballots, which need to be in hand 30 days before the election and then comes the regular ballots for Election Day. But during that time monkey wrenches are commonplace. Sometimes a candidate’s name is misspelled or maybe they are in a wrong column. And then there are the issues that Dave Scanlan and Denise Conant face just about each election cycle, that no amount of proofreading can help.
"We have a situation right now where a candidate running for a district moved out of the district and has established residence outside of the district and so that candidate became disqualified. The party to which that candidate belong has an opportunity to fill that position on the ballot and once that’s done those ballots will need to be reprinted with that new candidates name out there."
"We’ve also had candidates pass away with their name on the ballot so again they’ve had time to fill that vacancy, so we’ve had those kind of issues too."
(some printing sound)
A week before Election Day, the finishing touches are put on the final ballots. Just about all are printed and ready to be delivered to three hundred and nine different sites across New Hampshire. All together about two hundred and seventy work hours went into printing these ballots… that’s ahead of the 300 hours the company projected for the job to take…because just like in elections, there’s always seems to be an unpredictability factor that goes into ballot printing as well.
For NHPR, I’m Keith Shields