I. In Focus This week
Election Day 2015 had a little bit of everything
Glitches, snafus, rats, successful pilots and unsuccessful pilots
By M. Mindy Moretti
“There was no line at the polling place. The line was almost out the door at Starbucks.” — an email from a Kentucky voter to her daughter.
There was snow, there was rain, there were blue skies and warm temperatures.
Poll workers overslept, stole voting equipment and didn’t know how to use new technology.
Voting machines malfunctioned and ballot-counting machines chugged along. There were new voting systems that worked flawlessly and there were those that didn’t.
Turnout out was historically low and turnout was relatively high.
Oh and there were rats.
Although ballots are still being counted and recounted and canvassed, Election Day 2015 is now in the books and while it may seem like a there were a litany of problems, by and large things went relatively smoothly, with, as always, isolated pockets of problems on Tuesday.
We’ll take a brief look at some of the issues that made headlines this week and take a deeper dive on some of those issues and the impacts they may have on 2016 in the coming weeks.
Vote by Mail
In the weeks and days leading up to Election Day, it seemed that vote-by-mail and the impacts of the U.S. Postal Service could have on that would be the biggest story of the election, however at press time, that does not seem to have played out. There were few reported problems of ballots arriving late.
Officials in Utah, where dozens of cities were voting-by-mail for the first time in a general election were pleased with the process and the impacts it had on voter turnout.
"I'm very happy about the voter turnout," Logan City Recorder Teresa Harris told the Cache Valley Daily. "It's the highest we've had since we had 25 percent in 2005. This year we had 28 percent and that's a pretty good turnout."
About 24,000 ballots arrived after Election Day in Salt Lake County, but still technically on time. The late arrival has left several races in the balance and has inspired one lawmaker to call for legislation that would allow clerks to post daily totals while continuing to count ballots instead of waiting till the race is certified to post the results.
Several jurisdictions debuted new voting equipment this general election and while everyone may not have been a fan of the new process, by-and-large there were very few problems with new systems.
In Virginia, where numerous cities and counties rolled out new equipment went quite well even though some voters didn’t like the switch back to paper ballots. Roanoke County had some issues with e-poll books, but the new voting equipment worked fine. The biggest problem was missing ballot-marking tables.
There are always glitches and snafus with technology on Election Day and election night and this year was no different. But that being said, there were no major meltdowns in any state or county.
In Pima County, Arizona, where elections officials were hand-counting three races in order to test the accuracy of the county’s new tabulation system, the new software slowed the reporting of the results, but according to Brad Nelson, elections director the results were accurate.
Eight counties in Colorado piloted four new voting systems for the state and the Mesa County, Colorado clerk’s office said the new system worked like a charm.
“They worked like a dream,” County Clerk Shelia Reiner told The Daily Sentinel. “We really enjoyed some good efficiencies from them. The scanners feed smoothly. I really had my doubts about this model, but it was slick.”
Several Ohio counties piloted e-poll books for the first time and the results were mixed.
Hamilton County faced the biggest struggles with delays at 10 of the county’s polling places and poll workers being forced to use the old paper poll books to sign in voters.
Secretary of State Jon Husted blamed a lack of preparation on the part of poll worker as the problem, not the system itself.
"It wasn't the machines. It was the poll workers themselves who were not properly prepared to use the new technology, (but) not for lack of training. The Board of Elections gave them the three-hour training they were required to have, but they showed up unprepared and unready to use this, and that issue will be addressed," Husted told WLWT.
Voters were none-too-pleased and voiced their frustration to several media outlets.
"It's not like this came as a surprise," Voter Matthew Wahlert told Fox 19. "They didn't even have passwords to work the machines. When I left, there were 20-25 people waiting and a lot of those folks were early morning voters like me who have to vote before we go to work or they aren't going to be able to."
Wahlert did not end up casting a ballot in yesterday’s election.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlmann kept the polls open for an additional hour and a half after the early morning problems with the poll books.
"I think giving an extra hour and a half, just to be fair - make sure everbody gets a chance to vote - I think that's the right decision. That's what I'm going to do,” Ruehlmann said about his decision.
According to the Hamilton County board of elections, about 1,000-1,100 people voted during the additional 90 minutes.
Secretaries of State
Although she was leading by as many as double-digit poll numbers before the election, incumbent Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes won re-election with just 51.2 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Steve Knipper.
"This is a job I love," Grimes told the Courier-Journal. “We have taken the office to new heights, breaking barriers to the ballot box and growing the economy," she told The Courier-Journal. "Those are the priorities we will continue to build upon for a better Kentucky."
In Mississippi, incumbent Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was easily re-elected to a third term as secretary with 62 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Charles Graham.
And as we reported previously incumbent Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) can rest easy this Election Day after winning the state’s primary earlier this month with more than enough votes over challenger Chris Tyson (D), a law professor, to avoid a runoff on November 21.
Ranked Choice Voting
A referendum to move the city of Duluth to a ranked choice voting system failed by a large margin. According to the Duluth News Tribune, the tally showed 15,564 no votes and 5,271 votes.
In the days leading up to the election, the referendum had become one of the hottest issues on the ballot with past and current elected officials taking up each side of the argument.
“I think it shows that the people of Duluth have a lot of common sense and understand that we’ve got a high level of civic engagement in the community,” Second District Councilor Joel Sipress told the paper. “We have an election system that works well for us, and I’m just really gratified that people in Duluth used their own judgment to determine what’s best for our election system.”
Turnout really was a mixed bag this year. In some areas, like Houston, Texas and Ohio turnout was driven by contentious ballot-issues. Unlike presidential or congressional election years, what, even more so than who, was on the ballot, seemed to drive turnout.
And turnout even varied widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state. Indianapolis saw it’s lowest turnout in 30 years —and the city was electing a new mayor, whereas turnout in Richmond, Indiana topped turnout from four years ago.
Odds and Ends
One great thing about Election Day, besides the whole democratic process, are the storylines it provides. And although this was an “off-year election” there was no shortage of odds and ends.
In Maine, voters became upset when groups began videotaping signature gatherers and signers at polling locations. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had to issue a statement that the filming was legal although he cautioned those doing the filming to be careful not to actually film signatures.
Poll workers in Eggville, Mississippi have turned Election Day into a potluck with certain poll workers agreeing to bring food to feed everyone working that day. Items on the menu this year included layered salad, strawberry cake, pork loin, apple cobbler, cabbage casseroled, creamed potatoes, Texas hash, and chicken salad. Yum.
Hmmmm, in Morristown, New Jersey one poll worker was telling voters that Republican voters used one voting machine and Democrats used the other. When a voter filed a complaint with the Morris County board of elections, the board, according to NBC said it immediately fixed the problem by re-educating the poll workers.
Now this is some election spending that electionline can get behind! Harris County, Texas voters received “I Voted” stickers for the first time in several elections because the county purchased 2 million stickers that should last through the 2016 presidential election. “Our voters have asked for it. It's also a neat thing to be proud of voting," Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart told the Houston Chronicle. "Those have been very popular."
An election judge in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania who had voting equipment in his car, apparently decided not to work the polls that day and instead offer rides for money. The polls opened three hours late and the poll worker was arrested.
Oh, and about those rats we mentioned. At one polling place in Texas, only one of the precincts voting machines came to life that morning because rats and other vermin had chewed the electrical wiring inside the polling place and therefore the power in the church was low. It took the county till about 2pm to provide a generator to run the machines.
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