WOSU (Ohio State University) recently published a step-by-step explanation of how absentee ballots are processed in Ohio. WOSU It is fairly clear about the process, however does not provide some details that might be a bit confusing. Focusing just on the process stage that seems vague, the article states:
Mail-in ballots are then removed from their envelopes and inspected to ensure they don’t have coffee stains or tears, which would make them unable to be read by machines. Damaged ballots are still counted, just by hand instead. After being flattened to remove creases, ballots are fed through a machine that captures the voting record but does not create a count of how many votes a candidate has received. (Emphasis added)
Then further on the article states:
Once Election Day arrives, the data from the vote capturing machines is manually moved to a tabulation machine that generates the election results.
So part of my question is: What "data" does the vote capturing machine produce that is manually moved to the tabulation machine?
One possible answer is that the "vote capturing machine" is simply an optical scanner that produces an images of the ballots, and the "data" being "moved" is a collection of (perhaps) hundreds/thousands of digital images. Subsequently those digital images (which should be faithful representations of the original ballot) are then processed with optical sensors to tabulate the votes for each candidate for each office. However if that is so, what is gained by the intervening imaging step?
As far as I can tell the optical scanners that are used at the precinct level on election day do not create images that are then read again to perform tabulation.
Now to put a bit of icing on the cake, the Ohio Secretary of State (who is the election process "boss" , says on the (Secretary of State website) that "absentee ballots are the first votes counted on Election Night". (emphasis added). That seems to be a tall order, considering there are tens of thousands of absentee ballots to be tabulated, and yet (at the precinct) the vote tally for each candidate is displayed on the polling place door (usually) within 15 minutes or so of poll closing.