Fayette glitches lead to all-night vote count
The Register-Herald Amelia Pridemore November 8, 2006
Fayette County vote-counting hit a major snag late Tuesday night, resulting in all-night system repairs and recounts that didn’t end until after daybreak Wednesday, county officials reported.
If the corrective action hadn’t been taken, the county risked disenfranchising hundreds of voters, the county clerk said.
By late Tuesday night, County Clerk Kelvin Holliday said, results being tallied were increasingly off. The county commission office was counting the votes individually, precinct-by-precinct, while the county clerk’s office was using software.
Around midnight, Holliday realized the spread between the clerk’s and commission’s results differed by hundreds of votes. Something was wrong, and he decided to immediately put the brakes on releasing any further tallies.
“Without a second thought, I put the skids to that,” he said. “I knew we were missing votes. By 1 o’clock, I knew something was seriously wrong.”
Holliday immediately consulted the secretary of state’s office, as well as the Fayette County prosecuting attorney’s office, and said he also began monitoring every vote.
The major problem was with the paper ballots’ scanning software, he said.
“The software failed us ... Those who voted on paper ballots were potentially being disenfranchised in Fayette County.”
Because of the seriousness of the problem, Holliday, his staff and staff from the secretary of state’s office and prosecutor’s office agreed to stay in it for the long haul.
The paper ballot totals were so far off that all paper ballot information in the system had to be zeroed out and everyone had to start from scratch, Holliday said.
Another problem then surfaced. Discrepancies were noted in two precincts where touch-screen machines were used. Holliday said that problem was caused by poll workers not properly closing out the machines. A manual override of the computer system had to be done — the votes of 110 people had to be manually entered race-by-race.
By 6:47 a.m., all was finished, but by the time all equipment was put away and properly secured, Holliday said, it was 8 a.m. and time for everyone to start their new work days.
“The employees did not have time to go home, maintenance included,” he said. “You have got to give credit where credit is due. They went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Holliday said he did not want to have any voter in Fayette County disenfranchised, and noted that after the new counts, the margins in several races changed.
“It had a ripple effect across the board,” he said. “It is important that we make sure that the numbers are accurately reported. You never know when your vote is going to make a difference — well, your vote really does make a difference.
“The final results for the 39 precincts were not going to be released until we knew we got it right. Even if we were the last county in the state reporting, we did it right.
“I would take an oath on that, and I am a Christian man who does not take oaths lightly. I really do believe we got it right.”
Holliday noted Raleigh County, with its 63 precincts, was finished well before midnight because of the exclusive use of touch-screen machines, and he believes a night like Tuesday could be avoided in the future if Fayette County could have the same.
“I don’t want to go through a night like (that) ever again,” he said. “I think we would be better off with a more efficient method. I would be all for it.
“Raleigh County finished very early with 63 precincts, and we’re working all night and through the next morning with 39? What’s wrong with this picture?”
However, he said the touch-screen machines cost $3,100 each and the county can’t afford it. It has only 41 touch-screen machines for the entire county — one for each precinct, one for early voting and one for demonstrations.
But he estimates paper ballots for the 2008 election will cost about $2 each — and the county has 25,000 voters. Gradually purchasing the machines could more than pay for itself in terms of not only ballot costs but labor as well. He emphasized the only problem with Fayette County’s touch-screen machines was due to a closing error.