Bryant’s mission of service

Wednesday, 06 May 2009
History teaches lessons well and today Oklahoma is one of the most highly respected states in election dependability and transparency painstakingly designed to minimize fraud according to Patty Bryant, Tulsa County Election Board Secretary.  With tight security and quality volunteers serving, the Board employs a well-trained staff which meets strict deadlines like clockwork to ensure that in every election large or small voter fraud is not an option.

Patty Bryant was  appointed Secretary in 2007.  Now near the end of her first two-year term, she is expected to be re-appointed by the Oklahoma Senate.  To Bryant, it is an honor to be the first Republican appointed to this position in Tulsa County history – a reflection of changes in the Oklahoma electorate and the trust in Bryant by officials of both parties.

As director of the Board, Ms. Bryant works year-round to ensure the success of each and every election.  “There are no second chances.  We have to be ready,” Bryant said as she explained that Tulsa County alone has 267 precincts.  With elections occurring nearly once a month, she oversees a continual stream of work from the printing of ballots, voting machine maintenance and testing, and a payroll of over 1,200 employees – just between election days.

Each Tulsa County precinct is appointed three officials which include; an Inspector, a Judge, and a Clerk.  These officials work on site to make sure that ballots are allocated correctly, and provide a “check-and-balance” of verifiable accountability.  How does this happen?

“Nearly every job function is divided by political party.”  Ms. Bryant said.  That way, no one can be accused of tampering on behalf of his or her own party.  Even the devices that store ballots have been appointed one Democrat , one official, and one secretary to unlock.  Three separate locks on the device guarantee that no one person can open the device alone.  Likewise, the office of precinct Inspector, Judge, and Clerk must include at least one Republican and one Democrat.

In the 2008 Presidential election, the Election Board began using a new computer application selected by the State.  The Modern Election Support Application (MESA) has shortened the ballot processing time by two full weeks.  The previous application, required at least two days just to print out a report of registered voters in Tulsa.  MESA requires only a matter of hours.  The previous system required data entry in computers unrecognizable to anyone who has grown up watching Hannah Montana.  With green letters on a small black computer screen and no mouse data was entered running in a DOS system.  Although the old system was reliable, MESA incorporates newer, faster technology, and that means faster results.

ImageWhat Secretary Bryant is particularly proud of is the fact that Tulsa had record voter turnout for 2008.  Out of the 337,237 registered voters in Tulsa County, a total of 256,245 voters showed up for the Presidential election.  This not only increases Tulsa County’s voter reliability, but also enhances Oklahoma’s respected political stance at the national level.

When asked about the absentee process, Bryant reassures that there is little room for mix-ups.  “The amount [of double ballots] we find is very limited.  Most of the time, we will encounter them in cases of nursing home patients. Sometimes [the elderly] forget they had already voted…” In some cases, an elderly person is taken out by a relative to their precinct and will also have applied for an absentee ballot (for those unaware, the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is always 5 p.m. on the Wednesday before the election).  But this is rare Bryant reports.

Once 7 p.m. arrives on election night, the polls close and all ballots are in the hands of an official and ready to be counted.

“We don’t give voter credit until after the polls close on Tuesday night,” Bryant said.  She noted that in elections when giving voter credit; it is the computer terminal at the Election Board that alerts officials if someone has already voted.  Poll officials have a printout of the names of people eligible to vote.  If a voter forgets that he or she has already voted, or intentionally attempts to vote twice, very little gets past the Board on election night.

Bryant explained the process, “On election night, the memory packs from each precinct are compiled into a machine for the totals.  Then we [Board] put all the ballots into a vault.”  And, so as not to forget the principle of accountability, every Board member is involved in this process together.  The Tulsa County Sheriff is present while the ballots are taken and locked into the vault.  The Sheriff has one of two keys required to lock or unlock the vault.

In such cases as early voters and absentee voters, Bryant and her team discover unintentional forgetfulness on Tuesday night.  “The latest that the Board has stayed counting ballots was until 5:45 in the morning,” she explained.  Their tireless efforts, however, ensure that voters with prior credit do not get counted twice.  Real fraud is caught after all voting has happened, and then it is turned into the District Attorney.  Ms. Bryant also assures that those who intentionally commit voter fraud are prosecuted.

“I don’t think that fraud is nearly as bad as the media makes it out to be,” Bryant said.  It is quite possible that past crises of voter fraud have left many Americans insecure about the thoroughness of the whole process.  Even so, one thing is for sure, and that is Tulsa County is in good hands.

For any citizen interested in seeing the work behind elections, tours are available at the Tulsa County Election Board office on North Denver Avenue.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 May 2009 )