Why did it take so many hours for D.C. officials to count ballots on Tuesday night?
Board of Elections officials blamed the delay on five touch-screen voting machines that they said had been shut down incorrectly. Long after polls closed, officials had to drive to precincts in four of the District’s eight wards to pick up the problematic machines, which meant that officials did not finish counting ballots until after 1 a.m.
The drawn-out and messy tabulation drew a barrage of criticism. But Clifford Tatum, the election board’s executive director, said he was largely pleased with the rollout of additional touch-screen machines this year.
Tatum said the election board deployed more than twice as many of machines than in the past. Each precinct had at least two machines, which created difficulties for poll workers who were unfamiliar with the equipment.
“Some of our workers have admittedly never touched laptops before,” he said.
It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to correctly shut down one touch-screen voting machine, Tatum said. And shutting down two machines is more complicated than simply repeating the same process. Workers must transfer a memory card from one machine to the next in order to print a paper audit that displays votes from both machines.
Officials counting votes at the Board of Elections Tuesday night noticed that five of those paper audits were missing a serial number, a clue that at each of those precincts, votes from at least one machine had been left out. So they drove off into the night to pick up the machines.
“It took a little longer than what we’re used to,” Tatum said. “We are confident that the results are accurate, which is what we’re always concerned about, accuracy over speed.”
Tatum said the board will focus on training poll workers before the next election, and may consider asking the council for more money to buy newer voting technology, which is easier to shut down without errors.
He said the board received many calls Tuesday from citizens who complaining that there were not enough touch-screen machines at their polls.
Most voters chose to cast paper ballots on Election Day: 43,440 picked paper, and 29,060 used the machines.
But the machines were much more popular for early voters, perhaps because lines were shorter. Among early ballots, 9,586 were completed by machine, and 954 on paper.