‘Failed miserably’

GREENFIELD — Catastrophic.

Marcia Moore summed up Tuesday’s election in one word.

Sitting in the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse Annex on election night, the county clerk shook her head in disgust.

Software glitches. Equipment failures. More than 2,000 ballots with errors.

Sixteen local contests were left in limbo Tuesday night after election workers learned late in the day that a software error caused entire races to be left off voters’ ballots at five of the county’s 12 polling sites, Moore said. And there’s no way to identify or alert the 2,012 voters who didn’t have a say in those races — a fact Hancock County attorney Ray Richardson said will likely trigger a special election to start the process over.

“(The ballots) all get mixed up in a box — you don’t know who dropped what ballots in what box,” Richardson said.

Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, a voter at NineStar Connect’s north campus, one of the county’s 12 polling sites, noticed there was no listing on the ballot for the two contested county commissioner races.

The error had gone unnoticed for four hours, after 2,012 people had cast ballots without voting in those races, Moore said.

The missing commissioner races created a domino effect on every race listed beneath the county commissioner races — which pitted incumbent Brad Armstrong against Matt Holland in District 3 and Randy Sorrell, Randy Harrison and John Jessup against one another in District 1.

The glitch caused all remaining races on the ballot — the 11-candidate county council at-large race, as well as three state convention delegate races and 10 precinct committeemen races — to be printed in the wrong spots. While voters could have made selections for those races, their votes weren’t recognized by the system and will have to be recounted, said local attorney Bob Bogigian, president of the county election board.

Election board members will first have to recreate the partially completed ballots — filling in the bubbles on 2,012 new ballots by hand — then feed them through the voting equipment for a final tally, Moore said. That process was scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The software error was one of a number of problems that plagued the local election, Moore said.

Voting was delayed at several polling sites early Tuesday after a software update from the county’s voting equipment vendor — Election Systems & Software — failed to load. The system was unable to immediately locate voter information, which caused delays, but voters were able to cast provisional ballots as the election office continued to troubleshoot the problem.

Later, hardware problems at the courthouse annex, where votes are tallied, temporarily brought processing ballots to a halt, Moore said.

“Our software company failed miserably from the very beginning of the day,” said Moore on Tuesday night, sitting beside Election Systems & Software representative Jeremy Burton, who declined to comment.

A somber Moore — flanked by Bogigian, fellow election board member John Apple and Burton — delivered the news to a crowded room of spectators at the annex at 9 p.m.

Candidates and their supporters had been waiting nearly three hours for results; but many would go home disappointed.

Moore told the crowd the local election office sought guidance from the Indiana Election Division early in the day after learning the commissioner races were omitted from the ballot.

State officials said the local office has no legal authority to take further action; contesting the election will be up to the candidates affected or their party chairmen, she said.

Indiana election law states that “if the court finds that … a malfunction of an electronic voting system … makes it impossible to determine which candidate received the highest number of votes, the court shall order … a special election.”

Republican Party Chairwoman Janice Silvey said late Tuesday she plans to seek advice from legal counsel and consult the candidates affected before taking any action.

Specifically, she wants to know if the margin between the winning candidates for the two commissioner races and their runners up exceeds 2,012 votes.

Should the top two vote-getters fall in that gap, a special election could be called for a new date.

But without the energy of a presidential primary, turnout won’t be anywhere near the 14,000 voters who cast ballots on Tuesday, she said.

“That’s not fair to (the candidates),” Silvey said. “It could change the course of what it was intended to be.”

Local elections have seen minor issues through the years, but the county has never experienced an error that caused a delay of this magnitude, officials said.

In November 2012, local candidates remained in a state of flux after election board made an unprecedented decision to wait until the next day to finish counting ballots.

Fatigued after a busy election day, the election board left 3,000 ballots uncounted, leaving two school board races and a school referendum on hold.

District 1 commissioner candidate John Jessup tilted his head to the ceiling in disbelief when he learned he would go home without an answer about his political future.

He had hoped Tuesday’s election would begin to heal a split Republican party; but that will have to wait, he said.

As he left the courthouse annex, he expressed disappointment in the process.

“I don’t want to win on a technicality, and I damn sure don’t want to lose on one,” he said. “No matter how the race turns out, we’ll have some campaigns that feel like they got cheated.”

Reporter Daniel Morgan contributed to this report.

What the law says

What the law says:

Under Indiana election law, the results of an election can be contested under certain circumstances.

Indiana election law states that “if the court finds that … a malfunction of an electronic voting system … makes it impossible to determine which candidate received the highest number of votes, the court shall order … a special election.”

Author photo
Noelle Steele is editor of the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3232 or nsteele@greenfieldreporter.com.