County election officials are downplaying the delays in producing results in last week’s elections but, whatever the reason, the problems need to be fixed. This was an off-off-year election. Unless the delays that slowed reporting this year are addressed, they will be exponentially multiplied in 2020. So call this year’s glitches an early warning.
The problems were reportedly technical but that does nothing to ease concerns about this year’s troubles and what they could augur for next year, when Americans will be voting in what may be the most contentious presidential election of their lives. Interest will be high and that will drive turnout. Without attention, chaos awaits.
The problem this year had to do with the electronic chips that record ballots on voting machines. Because of a programming issue, tabulating the results from this year’s inaugural early voting required election officials to press an “enter” button 837 times for each chip. Do the math: With two machines in each of 37 polling places, the system was going to require officials to hit “enter” 61,938 times. That’s not good.
Fortunately, the vendor came up with a solution on the fly and results were available 50 minutes after the polls closed at 9 p.m. By comparison, though, early voting results in Niagara County were up by about 9:05.
It wasn’t a disaster, but neither was it the nonissue that a Board of Elections official portrayed it. And, obviously, it didn’t have to happen. The county has done better in years past and it need to do better forward, starting with 2020.
In fairness, it is not shocking that glitches showed up the first time New York State offered early voting. What is more, the problem was exacerbated here by the salutary fact that Erie County made it especially easy for voters to cast early ballots. Residents in this county were provided 37 early polling sites. That’s twice as many as any other county in the state, but because of the nature of this year’s difficulties, it also doubled the consequences of failure.
Anyone who works with high-tech equipment knows that trouble can arise unexpectedly. When the issue is elections, especially at a time of heightened – if unwarranted – suspicions of voter fraud, it is essential for elections officials to know their equipment is going to work properly. That requires testing of all phases of its use, from accepting ballots to recording them accurately to delivering results as expected.
It’s fortunate that these problems cropped up this year and not next. In the past, Erie County has been able to provide results promptly. There’s no good reason why it shouldn’t have been able to do so this year.
Elections officials need to ensure that everything is in working order before a single vote is cast in any of next year’s elections.