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Column: Counting up to 91,035 one by one
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

My youngest likes to count. He can count up to 100 with just a little help. Sometimes he asks me how long it would take to count to a “drillion.” A drillion is not a number. Neither is a zillion, a jillion or a gazillion. 

Merriam Webster defines those first two words as “an indeterminately large number” and the last as “a huge, unspecified number” — in other words, a heck of a lot.

Quadrillion meanwhile is a number with 15 zeros. And novemdecillion is a number with 60 zeros; that comes after octodecillion, which has 57 zeros.

I have no idea how long it would take to count to any of those numbers, other than a longer period of time than I plan to devote to counting anything.  

But, we’re about to find out how long it will take to count to 91,035, the number of ballots cast in Hall County. 

Friday morning I showed up at the Hall County Elections Office to watch the audit in the presidential race, a process that essentially requires a hand recount across the state. 

I was asked to sign in with my name and party. Not being there as a party representative, they allowed me to instead write “The Times” in the political party category. That made me chuckle, as I’m pretty certain Times staff members don’t all vote the same, but in any case, my presence was recorded for whoever needs that information.

The hallway outside the room where the ballots were to be sorted soon filled with more than a dozen people, most who raised one hand identifying themselves as Republicans.

The first number we had to count to was seven. Elections officials were able to set up seven tables to sort ballots into piles for Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Jo Jorgensen. Elections officials wanted seven pairs, with one Democrat and one Republican, to sort the ballots. There were too many Republicans and not enough Democrats, but three Democrats showed up a few minutes late and things got underway.

The sorting room is separated by glass from the hallway where anyone can observe the process. The extra Republicans and myself sat on one side, while people walked to and fro on the other side of the glass. By about 10 a.m., party representatives were seated and sorting the ballots one by one into piles. I could not hear any discussion but I could see them placing the ballots. 

Those on the other side of the glass seemed to move through the ballots pretty quickly, a short glance and they placed the ballot on a pile.

They were set to work through the weekend. Their deadline is Wednesday.

I told my oldest, who can definitely count to 100, that elections officials were going to count all the ballots by hand up to 91,035. He seemed to think that was a silly idea — or at least was going to take two or three weeks. “We’ll find out,” I told him. 

Elections Director Lori Wurtz told our reporter the county was on track to meet the state deadline of 11:59 p.m. Nov. 18.  

What I witnessed Friday morning was mostly sorting. Ballots are batched in groups of 25 or 50. 

Once the sorting is done, the ballots will be counted.

Wurtz expected the team to sort through about 16,000 ballots Friday. Only about 75,000 to go.

Both of my children get frustrated when they’re interrupted during counting. 

“You’re messing me up!” one will whine at the other. It’s hard to stay focused and not lose your place when counting to 100. 

I’m curious what it will look like when the counting begins in earnest at the elections office. Democrats and Republicans sure whine and shout at each other on social media, but I didn’t see any of that at the shared tables Friday morning. We sure don’t need anyone counting to 91,035 only to be interrupted and lose their place. 

My oldest suggested that machines could do the work. “Well, people don’t trust the machines,” I told him. They are new after all.

If you’re curious what it looks like or don’t trust the process, I’d encourage you to go down to the elections office and watch. It’s about as interesting to watch as you’d expect watching people sorting paper to be — which is to say not very. But it’s easy enough to do, especially if you’re at the Hall County Government Center on personal business already. I was the only one Friday morning who was there just to watch. 

For all the skepticism in the process, not many were seeking out the information firsthand, though our reporter said a few came and went. 

Of course, you can also read all about it in The Times. We’ll be following the process each day and let you know how it goes.    

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.

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