Canvassing the Vote

Canvassing the vote is the process by which the responsible officials, known as the canvassing board, total the accumulated returns in order to determine the outcome of an election.

Canvassing Board

In all county, state, and federal elections except primary elections, the probate judge, sheriff and circuit clerk serve as members of the canvassing board of their county. In primary elections the county executive committee of each political party participating in the primary elections serve as the canvassing board. The canvassing board for counting provisional ballots, is the same as for the general elections.

The sheriff may be represented by a deputy on the canvassing board. If the office of the probate judge or the clerk of the circuit court is vacant, or if either or both are candidates in the election being canvassed, the appointing board must fill the vacant positions at the time poll workers are appointed. If the appointing board does not fill a vacancy or if any member of the canvassing board fails to attend the canvassing meeting, the sheriff must appoint a qualified elector of the county to fill the vacant position. Whether appointed by the sheriff or the appointing board, persons chosen to fill a vacant position on the canvassing board must be qualified electors who own land or houses in the county.

If all members of the canvassing board belong to the same political party, the sheriff must summon three reputable, qualified electors of the county who are members of the opposite political party to observe the proceedings.

General Elections

After a general election, the probate judge, sheriff, and circuit clerk, assemble at the courthouse on the second Friday after the election at 12:00 noon and, in the presence of any other persons who may choose to attend, canvass the returns from the various precincts within the county and makes a final statement of the election results. The final results are checked and rechecked.

Canvassing of provisional ballots must commence at noon Tuesday seven days after the election by tabulating the provisional ballots which have been certified by the board of registrars. The results must be posted in the courthouse, and one copy shall be sealed with the provisional ballots, provisional voter affirmation challenges, and certification of the board of registrars and delivered with other records of election.

Immediately after determining the outcome of elections for county offices, the canvassing board must make a written declaration of the results, setting out the name of each successful candidate and the office to which he or she was selected. This declaration must be signed by at least two members of the canvassing board. The original declaration is filed for record in the probate office, a copy is posted at the courthouse door and a copy is immediately transmitted to the Secretary of State by fax or electronic transmission.

The canvassing board must then make certificates showing the number of votes cast in the county by precincts for each candidate and file them with the probate judge. In the case of elections for state legislators and all civil officers commissioned by the governor, except state executive officers, and for constitutional amendment elections, the probate judge forwards the election certificates to the Secretary of State by precincts.

All returns required by law to be sent to the Secretary of State must, within twenty-two days after the election, be opened, counted, and certified in the presence of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General, or any two of them, or by the Secretary of State in the presence of any one of the other officers in the case of constitutional amendments. The Governor proclaims the results of the election, and the proclamation is published in a newspaper at the state capitol.

Election certificates relating to elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, are forwarded by the probate judge to the Governor, who delivers them to the Speaker of the House. These returns are then canvassed and the results are proclaimed by the Speaker of the House, at least ten days before the time set for a joint session of the Legislature, during the organizational session of the legislature in January. The returns are then filed in the office of the Secretary of State.

Primary Elections

The county executive committees of the parties participating in the primary election meet at the courthouse not later than noon on Tuesday following the primary election to receive the returns, tabulate them by precincts, and publicly declare the results. The chair of the county executive committee, not later than noon on the Wednesday, eight days following the primary, shall certify and return to the chair of the state executive committee the voting results. On the Friday, ten days following the primary, the state executive committee will meet at the State Capitol in Montgomery and declare the results. The state executive committee will also provide the Secretary of State with the primary election returns on the same Friday.

When there is a run-off or second primary held due to no candidate receiving a majority of votes the canvassing procedure following this election is the same after the initial primary.

Municipal Elections

Commencing at noon on the first Tuesday after the municipal election the statements of results that have been delivered by the election officials to the municipal clerk are canvassed by the municipal governing body. If a candidate has received a majority of the votes cast, the council or commission declares that candidate elected and issues a certificate of election to the person. If no provisional ballots were cast or if the certification results of provisional ballots cast have been received prior to that time, the municipal governing body may canvas the results prior to the first Tuesday after the election at any special or regular meeting. A similar procedure is followed with respect to propositions voted on at municipal elections.

When no candidate receives a majority vote, the governing body orders a “run-off” election, to be held on the sixth Tuesday following the regular election, between the two candidates who received the greatest number of votes in the first election. The second election is held and its results are returned and canvassed in the same manner as was done in the first election, and the candidate receiving the highest number of votes is declared elected. A tie is decided by a majority vote of the entire municipal governing body.

The municipal clerk files each certificate of election with the probate judge of the county in which the municipality is located, and the probate judge records these certificates in the same way he or she records declarations of results for county offices.

Ballots and Other Records and Supplies

The used ballots and other election supplies and records delivered to the sheriff by the precinct returning officers are kept by the sheriff for a period of six months when no federal elections are held after an election and twenty-two months after an election with a federal race on the ballot. He then takes the packages containing these materials out of the ballot boxes and destroys the election materials. If an election contest is instituted, he must preserve the ballots and other election materials until the contest is finally determined, in the event that they are needed in the settlement of the contest.

In municipal elections, these responsibilities are placed on the municipal clerk. In primary elections, these responsibilities are placed on the county committee chairman.