Countywide voting, machine malfunctions account for Election Day confusion, clerk says

By Marilyn Tennissen | Nov 7, 2014

The confusion surrounding the last minute changes in election results had to do with some new laws in place and technical difficulties, county officials say.

There has been controversy since the Nov. 4 General Election in Jefferson County, with a few Republican candidates going to bed thinking they were winners after most of the precincts had reported only to find Wednesday morning that they had actually lost the election.

Chief Deputy County Clerk Theresa Goodness said watching the results based on precincts reporting can be misleading, because in Jefferson County voting is “countywide,” not limited to the precinct in which the voter resides.

“In the 2013 constitutional amendment election , we changed to a countywide system. A voter can cast their ballot in any precinct on Election Day, just like in Early Voting,” Goodness said.

Many voters aren’t even aware of that change, she said.

So, for example, when it’s midnight and a candidate looks like they are ahead with 102 out of 106 precincts reporting, that really doesn’t mean every ballot has been counted for that precinct.

So when Precinct 1 has turned in their ballots, that could mean there are ballots for different precincts in addition to Pct. 1, and Pct. 1 ballots could also be at other locations. Ballots from every precinct have to be turned in to accurately reflect an individual precinct’s votes, she said.

But the biggest problem with the election was technical difficulties with the electronic voting system made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

Goodness said when the public test was conducted on Election Day, the M650 Scanner was not working.

It was having trouble reading the mailed in paper ballots, and kept spitting them out, she said.

The first thing the election officials did was to contact ES&S by telephone and have technicians walk them through some adjustments.

When that didn’t help, County Clerk Carolyn Guidry asked that ES&S send a technician in person. That technician was in Tyler, about 200 miles away in upper East Texas.

In the meantime, the machines were having no trouble with tabulating the electronic votes.

The ES&S tech arrived sometime after 6 p.m. and got the problems fixed. But the delay put everything behind.

But the paper ballots still have to be carefully counted because they might be folded or torn or not properly filled out. When that happens a duplicate ballot has to be made to run through the scanner.

Goodness said everything is cross-referenced, and the process of remaking the ballots is supervised by election judges from both parties.

“And we had more mail-in ballots than ever before this year. It just takes time to accurately count them,” she said.

The electronic votes were coming in to the Central Counting Station from the precincts in the meantime, except for the two busiest polling places: Rogers Park and Theodore Johns Library, both in Beaumont.

“There were still people in line at those locations at 7 p.m. (when the polls were to close). Anyone that is in the line at 7 can still come in and cast their vote,” she said.

Most of the polling locations have three or four machines, but Goodness said there were about 20 at Rogers Park and about 16 at Johns Library.

Historically, voters in the Rogers Park precincts have voted Republican, while those at Johns Library usually vote Democrat, past election results show.

There was another snafu at the Rogers Park location when it was discovered that one of the flash drives that contained the votes had been left in a machine.

“We had to get the city to open the park building up again and we had to get the flash drive. That just caused more delays,” she said.

All the electronic votes were finally counted by about 1 a.m., Goodness said, but the paper ballots were still being processed.

With cross checking and reconciling paper work, the paper ballots weren’t sealed until 4 a.m.

“It was a long, long night,” she said. “But everyone was very diligent and really did a good job.”

So, in some close races it was just misleading to call winners at midnight based on the number of precincts reporting, she said.

Two of the races that were affected were the 172nd Judicial District contest between incumbent Donald Floyd and Republican challenger Rick Williams and the District Clerk’s race between Republican Charlie Wiggins and Democrat Jamie Smith. With 105 out of 109 precincts reporting, Williams was ahead by 355 votes. By morning, he had lost to Floyd by a margin of 692 votes.  Wiggins ended up losing to Smith with 49.25 percent of the votes.

Goodness said as of Friday morning there had been no official requests made for a recount.





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