GREENFIELD — Marcia Moore stood a little straighter. She sighed — but this time, with relief. Good news. Finally.
Election officials could have called local races Tuesday night after all, and by all accounts Wednesday, a special election won’t be needed to determine the winners, said Moore, the Hancock County clerk. A computer glitch election officials feared affected more than 2,000 ballots Tuesday — prompting officials to delay announcing results on election night — actually impacted only 344 ballots, not enough to make a difference in any local race.
A seemingly simple conclusion that took hours to reach Wednesday afternoon, long after exasperated candidates had gone home for the night Tuesday with no answers — just to show up bright and early the next morning to watch election officials sort out the mess. Officials sorted all 2,000-plus ballots by hand, then counted votes on the 344 with errors.
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Two races for county commissioner and one for county council were among campaigns left in limbo Tuesday night after software glitches and equipment failures suggested more than 2,000 ballots cast at five vote centers during the primary election had errors. Wednesday morning, Moore learned the issues affected just one vote center.
Election officials are still trying to nail down what went wrong — on Wednesday, the county’s voting equipment vendor for 20-plus years, Elections System & Software, declined to comment on the technology failures. The company hadn’t provided answers to local election officials, either, Moore said.
Early in the day Tuesday, the Hancock County Election Board was alerted to problems at the NineStar Connect vote center on County Road 600N; four hours after polls opened, a voter noticed ballots printed at the site didn’t list the two contested commissioner races, meaning hundreds of voters didn’t have the option to cast ballots for five Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for two spots.
Because the commissioner races were left off ballots at NineStar, every race below them, including the 11-candidate county council at-large contest, on the ticket was printed in the wrong spot and couldn’t be electronically tallied.
That triggered hours of waiting as the clock ticked past midnight Tuesday; candidates huddled around late-night hamburgers, grumbling about delays and bickering about who was to blame.
They reconvened — the grumbling ongoing — at 8 a.m. Wednesday to watch as election officials, flanked by a team from the county’s election software company, sorted through the problem ballots.
Dozens of local candidates and their supporters gathered in the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse Annex to watch the process unfold, only to learn the count had no effect on anticipated outcomes. Brad Armstrong and John Jessup held onto their leads in the commissioner races, while Kent Fisk, Debbie Bledsoe and Martha Vail remained the top vote-getters in the county council race.
But that wasn’t clear until nearly 2 p.m. — six hours after the work began.
For hours, workers shuttled ballot boxes between stations in a makeshift election office in the annex basement as candidates and their supporters peered through chain link fence separating the public from the process, anxiously awaiting an announcement.
It made for cramped quarters in a dimly lit area unfriendly to visitors, who kicked aside cardboard boxes and office supplies to stake their claim on a spot to watch. Jessup leaned against a metal utility ladder. Other candidates divvied up wayward office chairs and settled in.
Moore said she hopes the problems that plagued this year’s primary don’t leave residents doubting the worth of vote centers, which allow residents to cast ballots at any polling location, instead of confining voters to the precincts where they live.
The convenience of vote centers comes at a cost: ballots are printed on demand as voters arrive and differ depending on where a person lives. The varying combinations make it harder to spot a ballot error.
It’s a system that works, Moore said, and the county has had few problems with vote centers since they were implemented in Hancock County in 2014.
But she recognizes voter confidence in the system has suffered.
“Unfortunately, the public perception of the quality of the race has been tarnished. That is an outrage,” she said.
Bob Bogigian, the Democratic representative on the Hancock County Election Board, said county officials will need to review the county’s contract with the software system before deciding whether officials will use the company in the future. That contract was not available Wednesday.
Though many candidates were understanding of Tuesday’s troubles, they were still disappointed.
Candidates gather at the annex after polls close for results and to celebrate with family and friends. Because results weren’t announced until Wednesday, those celebrations were put on hold.
For council candidate Kent Fisk, who was one of three candidates to win his race, the delay was draining.
The celebration is as exciting for supporters as it is for the candidates, he said. Not being able to reward his supporters Tuesday night with a victory was discouraging.
“I wish I could say I was so strong I didn’t care,” he said.