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How Are Votes Counted When The Polls Close?

Voters in Alexandria wait in line to vote.
Hoai-Tran Bui/American University
Voters in Alexandria wait in line to vote.

The vote tallying process is part machine, part human and follows a strict set of protocols.

At 7 p.m., "the Chief announces to the public polls are officially closed," said Assistant Chief Election Officer Donald Milburn, who has worked as an election officer for more than 15 years in Great Falls, Va.

After that, only voters who are inside the polling location are still allowed to vote, and the doors are then closed.  After the final vote is cast, the election officers have to tally each machine with their electronic pin cards.  The machine then adds up all votes for each office electronically.

Then, according to Milburn, the machine "prints a tape out for us, we then take those tapes and we add them manually with an adding machine to get a total vote count for each candidate, those are ... transferred to a statement of results."

All nine officers must sign that sheet as the official record, certifying that it is accurate. Then a telephone call is made to the county so that the votes are immediately accounted for. The Chief elections officer delivers the hard-copy signed sheet in an envelope to the Fairfax County election office building.  Copies of the written results are posted outside of all polling locations.

"After that, we're free to go home, that's around 10 p.m.," Milburn says.  

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