Absentee ballot snafu in New Jersey illustrates the need for careful ballot handling procedures

This story out of Passaic County is not another story about absentee ballots and vote fraud.  But it is a cautionary tale about how important ballot handling procedures can be when new voting systems are implemented.

The basic summary is this: a county clerk found 49 uncounted mail in ballots while “handling” the ballots after the election.  Even though the envelopes had been time-stamped indicating that they had arrived on time, the clerk chose not to count them because the election results had already been announced.  A judge overturned this decision, and once counted, a different winner was declared.

What I found most curious, and disturbing, about the story is this quote:

Ken Hirrman, an office administrator with the Passaic County Board of Elections, said he discovered the 49 ballots Tuesday while handling the mail-in ballots.

Hirmann said he noticed the uncounted ballots because they were enclosed in thicker envelopes, indicating that they had not been opened and counted.

I have witnessed a lot of vote by mail and absentee balloting systems and have interviewed dozens of election officials about their administrative procedures.  I can’t imagine putting in place a system whereby the situation above could possibly occur.  This means that the ballot, still inside the secrecy sleeve, and then still inside the stamped envelope, somehow made it through the slicing process, the signature verification process, the separation of the outside envelope from the inner ballot process, and finally the tallying process, and no one noticed that there were still intact envelopes in the batch?

New Jersey has only recently gone to no-excuse absentee and permanent absentee.  I hope they have also paid attention to some of the long established ballot handling procedures put in place in CA, OR, WA, IA, and many other states.