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An inside look at how absentee, mail-in ballots are processed

The ballots go to the ballot room, a secure room that must be entered by a Republican and a Democrat at the same time

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — What exactly happens to a ballot once an election authority receives it? 5 On Your Side checked in with the St. Louis County Board of Elections to find out.

There, people are voting absentee in person and dropping off their absentee ballots directly. With an ID, the judges will watch voters sign and notarize their ballots and drop it in the ballot box.

Absentee and mail-in ballots are also coming back by mail; workers pick up the ballots directly from the downtown post office.

The ballot then goes to the ballot room, a secure room that must be entered by a Republican and a Democrat at the same time. A bipartisan duo works together to mark ballots as received. Then, the workers go back through one-by-one to verify signatures.

KNOW TO VOTE: Help wanted: How to be an Election Day poll worker

Along with hand-delivered and absentee-in-person ballots, these mailed ballots are then stored unopened until five days before Election Day, which is Oct. 29. That is the first day ballots in Missouri can be opened and processed.

In Illinois, ballots can be processed as soon as they're received

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Next, ballots are taken to the tab room, another secured room that does not have internet access. Here, bipartisan teams of election workers scan ballots into these computers.

If the scanner cannot read a ballot, the ballot goes back to the ballot room, where a bipartisan team works to transcribes a ballot so the vote can be counted.

All the ballot data is stored on a drive that is plugged into a counting computer that does the actual tabulating.

In both Missouri and Illinois, votes aren’t actually counted until after polls close Nov. 3.

Know to Vote

How absentee voting works 

Voters in Illinois and Missouri don't have to wait until Election Day to cast their ballots. But the process varies between states.

Illinois voters can cast their votes early from Sept. through Nov. 2, the day before the general election. The process is just like voting on Election Day, except voters probably will not go to their normal election day polling place.

As November approaches, more early voting locations will open. Check with your election authority before you head out the door. And make sure you're registered, or bring everything you need with you to register in person.

Missouri voters do not technically have an early voting option. The only option to vote in-person before Election Day is to fill out an absentee ballot. Absentee voting began Sept. 22 and continues through Nov. 2. Voting absentee in Missouri requires an "excuse" for why voters are not able to vote on Election Day, as outlined by the Missouri Secretary of State's office

Missouri voters also have the option of voting absentee by mail. If voters apply to vote absentee, an absentee ballot will get mailed.

Voters do not have to apply to vote absentee in person.

However, if voters have already applied, they can deliver their completed absentee-by-mail ballot to an absentee in-person voting location. They can also
surrender it and get a new ballot to vote in person.

Unlike most mailed ballots, absentee in-person ballots do not need to be notarized, since you'll vote at an authorized voting location.