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Computer glitch slows Scott County vote reporting (IA)
Quad-City Times. November 6, 2008. By Kurt Allemeier

The problem in reporting Scott County vote totals Tuesday started with a simple message: “Contact administrator.”

The computer message pointed to a voting equipment memory card failure that turned into a software problem and ended up with a human solution. The problem wasn’t solved until after midnight Wednesday, delaying candidate celebrations until unofficial results were reported.

The results, posted on the Scott County auditor’s Web site about 1 a.m. Wednesday, left election officials “devastated,” interim Scott County Auditor Wes Rostenbach said, taking blame for the delay.

“Our poll workers did a tremendous job handling same-day registration, my staff worked 20 hours and answered over 1,000 phone calls, but in the end, the results came out two hours later than they should,” Rostenbach said. “I am really sad for the candidates because it was their day, and they didn’t get to celebrate.”

Scott County was the only one in the state to have a major problem reporting results, Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro said.

However, in Woodbury County, absentee ballots were sent to voters with the wrong Iowa House district listed. Election officials took the ballots from their envelopes and counted all the results except for the erroneous House race. In Clinton County, election officials took home two memory cards Tuesday night, preventing results from their precincts being posted to the county’s Web site until Wednesday.

Scott County Auditor-elect Roxanna Moritz said she spoke to Rostenbach on Wednesday and says discussing contingency plans will be among one of her first duties.

“I think it will be a good opportunity to get to know the people in the auditor’s office and see what went right and what went wrong,” she said, adding that most of the problem was out of the Scott County officials’ control.

The delay in reporting early vote totals led to some local media outlets incorrectly reporting the outcome of at least two races.

The problem started with two memory card failures before 11 p.m., as early voting results were being added to Election Day results. The memory cards held the results of 11,627 ballots cast in early voting. Election officials turned to printout tapes of the summary reports to be manually entered into the computer system, but the software required more detailed and time-consuming precinct-by-precinct information to be entered.

In the past, absentee votes were recorded as a separate precinct, but this year they had to be put back into the voters’ respective precincts because of a change in election law, Mauro said.

Workers in the auditor’s office, including the county webmaster and director of information technology, tried to find a different way to deliver the vote totals but didn’t complete the task until shortly before 1 a.m.

“We weren’t trying to hide anything, we weren’t withholding anything,” Rostenbach said. “We just wanted to get it right.”

Leaders of the county Democratic and Republican parties weren’t concerned about the reporting delays. A member of each party observed the counting and recording of the early and absentee votes.

Scott County Democratic Party chairwoman Susan Frembgen said she was disappointed by the delay in results, while Republican chairman Bryan Sievers had more concerns about same-day registration and treatment of poll watchers.

“There are some significant glitches in the software, and I think our new auditor will have to address these immediately, so we don’t have to deal with long waits again,” Sievers said. “I think people on both sides of the aisle and in the auditor’s office were frustrated by the glitches in the reporting of these early voting ballots.”

 Kurt Allemeier can be contacted at (563) 383-2360 or kallemeier@qctimes.com.

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