Missed votes due to error in machine
33,000 Utah County ballots affected
By Mark Eddington
The Salt Lake Tribune 16 November 2004
PROVO - Because election officials failed to do one test, 33,000 votes went uncounted in Utah County's unofficial Election Day tally.
That was the explanation Monday for the big ballot blunder, which has since been corrected.
While running a pre-election test on the punch-card reading machines, computer specialists failed to ensure the devices were doling out the votes cast on straight-party ballots to individual races. As a result, more than one in five of the 151,237 votes cast in the county were not tallied.
"The test procedure would not have picked [the problem up] because the procedure itself was insufficient," Commissioner Jerry Grover explained Tuesday before joining fellow Commissioner Steve White and Utah County Treasurer Mel Hudman in certifying the fixed results.
Initial results showed Utah County with a huge undervote. White said some undervote is normal since voters do not always cast ballots in every race.
"But 33,000 people not voting for president this year?" White added. "That should have been, on election night, a big, red flag to somebody."
As it was, election officials posted the unofficial tally on the county's Web site without comment or caveat - even though they say it was apparent something was amiss the morning after the election.
"What we probably should have done is post a notice that week that we suspected we had some issues with the undervote," Neil Peterson, Utah County information systems director, told commissioners. "But we didn't think it was appropriate until we knew exactly what the cause was and what was the resolution."
Peterson said his department has since corrected the procedure to keep it from recurring.
"We have two additional tests that we run now to make sure this problem is caught," he said. "So we have made adjustments."
In overwhelmingly Repub- lican Utah County, the missing ballots did not affect the outcome of any races. The recount only reinforced the GOP's dominance.
For instance, the official canvass - which also added valid provisional and absentee ballots -increased President Bush's tally from just under 66 percent of Utah County's vote to a whopping 85 percent.
Republicans in other races also posted impressive gains in the official canvass, including congressional challenger John Swallow.
The official results showed he got 60 percent of the county's vote compared with about 40 percent in the initial tally. Even so, it was not enough to overtake Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson, who posted higher numbers elsewhere.
While the uncounted votes did not count for much in Utah County, commissioners said it might have been different if the races had been tighter.
"The clerk is tasked to run the certification, and the clerk is ultimately responsible," Grover told Utah County Clerk/Auditor Kim Jackson. "We need to make sure that in the future we have a complete review so this doesn't happen again."
Jackson countered that his office is understaffed and overstressed. "We run the election office with only two full-time employees, with a county of over 400,000 in population," he said. "Our staff did an excellent job."