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Election Board's technology snags blamed for delay in election results

The Erie County Board of Elections' plan was to post early voting results online by 9:15 p.m. Tuesday.

But at 9:15, results were not online. That was when elections officials said results would be online by 9:30.

At 9:45, they still were not online.

That was around the time that a Board of Elections spokesperson told a reporter, “This isn’t about fast. This is about right.”

Then, at about 9:50 p.m., the results were online — finally.

In the end, the results from nine days of early voting as well as traditional Election Day voting were all posted on the board's website, and accurately.

But what took so long?

In Niagara County, early voting results were online at around 9:05 p.m., after all.

Here’s the story behind the delay, as related by Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr:

Election results are stored on electronic chips, similar to thumb drives, on the machines that scan ballots in each polling place. Those chips have to be put into a computer, and then the results are uploaded.

Local officials had collected all the chips from early voting on Sunday evening, but they were required by the state to wait until 8 p.m. Tuesday to begin uploading the results onto county computers.

When they started, they ran into an unexpected delay. The computer asked workers to press "Enter" for confirmation to proceed after uploading the results from each type of ballot.

That normally isn’t a big deal. But because Erie County residents could cast ballots at any of the 37 polling sites in the county, each polling site had to have electronic versions of all 837 ballot configurations available.

That meant that each time a chip was inserted, officials had to press "Enter" 837 times.

Erie County had 37 early polling sites — twice as many as any other county in New York. Each site had two machines, for a total of 74 chips.

Officials quickly realized that pressing "Enter" several hundred times for each chip would take quite a long time. They got on the phone with the vendor of the electronic voting equipment.

It took about 20 minutes or so to identify a solution that required workers hit "Enter" just once for each chip, rather than the 61,938 total times that would have been required.

Elections officials had done trial runs previously, but they had not encountered that problem.

Once that obstacle was cleared, officials were able to start uploading election results as they normally do. And then disaster struck again.

One of the three computers available to upload the data on the chips, to use a technical term, “crapped out,” Mohr said.

Officials downplayed the lag, noting that this was the first year of early voting and the technology that accompanied it, such as the electronic polling books used to sign voters in.

But the delays continued well after the early voting results had been posted. As of 11:06 p.m., the board had uploaded only 81% of the voting districts' results.

Officials pointed to yet another change in procedure that was implemented this year. In the past, poll workers would call in results from each polling site once voting had ended for the night. Those results were then entered into the county’s computer system.

But that sometimes introduced human error.

This year, no results were accepted by phone. That meant no results appeared on the board's website until someone drove the electronic chips with results from each polling place to the board's downtown office.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner downplayed complaints, saying results were always late in Erie County.

“This is nothing new,” he said.

He and Mohr said they expect next year’s elections to run smoothly.

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