March, 2014 Primary Election Issues

Two questions frequently asked about Incorrect Election Results Trigger County Wide Recount:

HOW ARE VOTES COUNTED ON ELECTION DAY?

All votes in Champaign County are recorded on paper ballots, which are machine scanned and tabulated. Each tabulating machine accounts for every ballot processed, reports results for each precinct assigned to it, and records for all contests in that precinct the valid votes counted, the invalid over-votes rejected, and any blank (under-votes) ignored for that contest. This information is recorded on the same sealed computer memory device which contains information required by the tabulator, especially the electronic descriptions of the various ballot styles assigned to that machine. After the polls close, the machine prints paper reports immediately for retention by the judges of election and any authorized poll-watchers. The judges of election (who are appointed by the Chairs of the two leading established parties) then remove the memory device and paper ballots, seal them in the presence of the poll-watchers, and immediately transport them to the Election Authority (in Champaign County, that is the County Clerk). There, under the supervision of the Authority, teams of election judges and workers from both parties receive, process, and store the election materials. The memory devices are read by a computer which uses software certified by the State Board of Elections to aggregate the data and produce the unofficial election results released on election night. The memory devices and paper ballots are sealed and secured to await any post-processing required. This includes machine re-tabulations and manual ballot counts on machines randomly selected by the State Board of Elections.

WHAT HAPPENED IN MARCH 2014?

The basic procedures above worked well in Champaign County throughout the era of punch cards (“chad” to the contrary notwithstanding), and, until now, were remarkably efficient with the current generation scanner technology. On March 18, 2014, the process was completed around 10pm, and the unofficial results produced at that time seemed plausible to everyone at the processing center. Of course, attention was focused on the critical races on both partisan ballots. It was morning before the irregularities in minor contests were identified. Then followed the events described in our post, which were widely reported in the press.

On Monday, March 24, the Clerk determined that the issues were isolated to the bottom of the Democratic Primary Ballot, and that by re-programming the tabulators with ballot definitions properly synchronized with the paper ballots, then re-processing all the Democratic Primary ballots, all symptoms would disappear. After the recount, updated unofficial results were posted, and he reassured voters that “we just went through a monumental effort to reissue these to make sure they’re 100 percent accurate”, and that new procedures would preclude these issues from recurring in the future. On April 1, the outstanding absentee and provisional ballots were absorbed, and the official results were proclaimed by posting them to the Champaign County Clerk’s official website and transmitting them to the State Board of Elections, as required by law. The Board will conduct its own certification procedures and incorporate Champaign County results with those from other counties by Friday, April 28, 2014.

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