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Editorial: Glitches on primary night expose Erie County’s outdated system

Erie County Board of Elections officials have a variety of explanations for the technical “glitches” that delayed results on primary election night, but the fact is that the board must find a better way to count votes.

On Tuesday, primary election results began appearing on the Board of Elections website around 9:25 p.m. Then vote totals started to vanish and citizens had to wait until after 11 p.m. for any vote tallies to resume. Election officials said a programming error “significantly delayed reporting and forced retrieval of backup data from about 500 balloting machines.”

The board website also transposed vote totals for the Democratic candidates for mayor of Lackawanna, making it look like Anis A. Saif had won. Really, Dean J. Moretti won.

The whole episode shined a light on the decidedly old-school way Erie County counts votes. After the polls close, inspectors from outside Buffalo phone in results to the Board of Elections clerks, who enter the information – by hand. When the inspectors hang up the phones, they send their supplies to their main office, along with flash drives from each voting machines.

Within city limits, inspectors bring their paper election reports, along with their supplies and flash drives, to the Board of Elections headquarters.

In both cases, the information from the flash drives is uploaded to the reporting system when the drives get downtown.

Let’s just say it: There is no reason that our vote-counting system should depend on people phoning in results or driving flash drives across town. Not in 2019.

The other part of the problem is that one of the two elections commissioners, Jeremy Zellner, is also the Democratic chair for Erie County. If you wanted to make people doubt the sanctity of election results, you couldn’t invent a better way than putting a local political boss in charge of counting votes.

Zellner, of course, doesn’t see it that way. “Anyone casting aspersions on our process,” he said after the primary night mess, “doesn’t know what they are talking about.”

A guy driving down the highway with vote totals. A local political boss in charge of counting votes. It’s like Erie County is being run by ward-heelers from the 1800s. It needs to change.

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