Tight races not impacted much by latest ballot count

The ballots weren't counted previously because of a computer glitch

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: November 20, 2012, 8:04 PM

 

Republican Don Benton and Democrat Monica Stonier still lead in their legislative races after election officials tallied 1,179 ballots on Tuesday that had been overlooked because of a computer glitch.

The problem occurred when one faulty data card — dubbed Number 15 — didn’t transfer all of its information from the machine that scans the ballots to the machine that tallies the votes.

“Number 15, that was the culprit that failed on us,” Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness said Tuesday. “This is unusual and out of the ordinary.”

Clark County election officials expect that about a hundred ballots countywide could be added to the final tally. Either way, it appears both races will trigger a recount under state law.

After the glitch was corrected on Tuesday, 17th District state Sen. Benton of Vancouver had lost one vote to his rival, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver. However, Benton leads Probst by 104 votes.

Stonier, of Vancouver, lost 20 votes to her opponent, Ridgefield Republican Julie Olson, once the glitch was corrected. Stonier now leads Olson by a 100-vote margin. Stonier and Olson are running for the state House seat being vacated by Probst.

What went wrong

Officials were on hand Tuesday afternoon to explain to campaign members in those tight races exactly what went wrong.

The ballot-counting process works like this: Clark County election officials scan each ballot into a machine, and that machine then loads the election results onto data cards. Then, the data on those cards are stored on a hard drive and later entered into a computer that tallies the votes. A couple dozen data cards are used over the course of the election.

Data card 15 malfunctioned on election night and failed to transmit data from 1,179 ballots, Likness said. The problem was discovered Friday.

Using a new data card, officials got the right ballot information from the computer’s hard drive and ran the correct information through the machine that tallies the votes.

The computer program that officials use to count ballots is so strict about preventing fraud that it wouldn’t allow officials to immediately replace the bad card with the good one, Likness said. That meant officials had to close the election on their machines and start a new one.

“What we effectively have to do is tell the computer this election is done,” Likness told the group. “Then what we have to do is create a new election with all the same data. Then we can read the data cards in again.”

Data card 15 was purchased just last year, and the election department typically replaces its data cards every seven years, Likness said.

Following the explanation and updated count, the partisans in attendance appeared satisfied.

Clark County Republicans Executive Director Mike Gaston, who was present Tuesday to watch the process, noted that not much had changed by adding those new ballots, 296 of which were from the 17th District.

Nonetheless, Gaston said he appreciated being briefed on the problem, because “it’s important for confidence (and) for respect of the system.”

Recount nearly certain

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said he can’t imagine at this point a scenario in which an automatic recount in both tight races could be avoided. He’s not in the business of speculating, but “it seems very, very, very likely” that there will be a recount in both races, Kimsey said.

Any race in which two candidates are less than 2,000 votes apart or less than half a percentage point apart triggers an automatic recount. If less than 150 votes and less than a quarter of a percentage point separate the candidates, that recount must be done by hand, according to state law.

In either of those scenarios, the county would choose to do the recount by hand, Likness has said.

On Tuesday, 0.19 of a percentage point separated Benton and Probst. Olson and Stonier also were separated by just 0.19 of a percentage point.

It’s possible some more military or overseas ballots could continue to come in through the mail, Kimsey said. Election officials received eight more of those ballots on Monday and no new ballots on Tuesday.

More than 1,100 ballots countywide haven’t been processed for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being that they are ballots that have been challenged because of signature discrepancies. For those ballots to count, voters, who have been notified by election officials, need to verify their signatures — a process known as “curing” a ballot.

In a typical election, about 10 percent of those last remaining trouble ballots get resolved and counted, Kimsey said. However, more ballots than usual could be counted up until the very end because candidates in tight races are working to encourage challenged voters to correct the problem, Likness said. Candidates can get a list containing the names of the voters with challenged ballots.

Election results will be certified on Nov. 27. A recount would begin on Dec. 3, according the secretary of state’s office.