Ballot problem dates back to March

HANCOCK COUNTY — The ballot error that delayed primary election results Tuesday originated in the Hancock County Election Office months ago.

It was a mistake election officials spotted in March and took action to correct, said Hancock County election administrator Robin Spille. Shortly after sending out absentee ballots March 14 to residents who couldn’t be in Hancock County on election day, an election office worker noticed two local races weren’t included.

Election officials inadvertently omitted the two races for county commissioner from the list they sent to their election equipment vendor, Election Systems & Software, which in turn printed incomplete ballots, Spille said.

After discovering the mistake, the election office contacted the vendor, which reissued correct ballots to the 77 absentee voters — all but 12 of whom completed the new ballots — by March 17, Spille said.

But the incorrect ballot somehow remained in the vendor’s system and was uploaded at one polling place, where it was distributed to 344 voters on election day, Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore said.

Voters cast their ballots for four hours before one noticed the two local races were missing.

On Thursday, frustrated candidates — and election office personnel — were still waiting to learn why the incomplete ballot template was uploaded at one polling site on election day.

Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, which serves 92,937 precincts in 43 states, issued a statement Thursday apologizing to Hancock County voters for the technical failures but provided little detail to explain what went wrong.

“The issue which occurred in Hancock County on election day was unacceptable,” the statement reads. “… Going forward, we pledge our unwavering support to Hancock County to ensure that the failure to provide correct ballot styles does not occur again.”

Incomplete ballots were among a number of technical issues that sent poll workers scrambling on election day. A routine software update — which occurs daily leading up to election day to update voter information — failed to load early that morning, causing delays.

Election board officials said they share candidates’ frustration; they, too, are waiting for an explanation.

John Apple, the Republican representative on the Hancock County Election Board, added that if the county were to consider replacing its election vendor — which has served the county for 20-plus years — it would likely require purchasing entirely new equipment to accommodate new software.

Thursday’s scheduled election board meeting was moved from its usual location in a small office at the courthouse to the commissioner’s court to accommodate a small crowd of about a dozen people who came hoping to hear more details about what went wrong Tuesday.

But apart from certifying the primary election results, the board did not discuss the problems that plagued Tuesday’s election — partly, Apple said, because board members just don’t have the information voters want.

“I want the explanation, and I still don’t have that.” Apple said.

Instead, the board set a special meeting for 7 p.m. June 21 at the courthouse annex to discuss the primary election; the public is invited to attend.

Candidates who gathered on election night, hoping to hear results, criticized election workers for not noticing ballots were incomplete.

Thursday, Moore pointed out that vote centers — which allow anyone to vote at any polling site in the county — make it difficult for poll workers to spot problem ballots.

There were 238 different ballot styles issued to voters on election day, meaning a ballot that didn’t match the one that came before it wouldn’t raise eyebrows for poll workers, Moore said.

“They work two days a year. They wouldn’t realize,” she said.

Mark Lozier, who placed 7th in the 11-way race for Hancock County council race, came to the election board meeting hoping for answers. He would like to see the board of commissioners appoint a special committee to investigate further.

Though Lozier didn’t emerge as one of the victors Tuesday, he said he’ll continue to watch as the situation unfolds. No candidate should be kept in the dark, he said.

“Somewhere, our system failed,” he said. “Why did it fail? Was it because software failed or because we didn’t do our checks and balances at the front end?”

If you go

The Hancock County Election Board is holding a special meeting to discuss the issues that plagued Tuesday’s primary election.

The public is invited to attend the meeting, set for 7 p.m. June 21 at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.