D.C. ELECTIONS OFFICIALS have come up with a new explanation for the ineptitude in counting votes in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary. Broad computer network failure was to blame, officials now say. Their solution is to ask for more money. Well, just as the agency’s director predicted we would in testimony before the D.C. Council, we find that explanation hard to believe.
“I know it sounds preposterous,” Clifford D. Tatum, executive director of the Board of Elections and Ethics, said last week, explaining that polling officials were unaware they were experiencing a major technical problem on election night as hours ticked by with no votes being tallied.
The next day, under fire for their performance in the low-turnout election, they blamed a handful of electronic voting machines staffed by inadequately trained personnel. The technology failure that is now is being blamed for inaccuracies and delays will require, officials estimated, at least $2 million in new electronic voting machines and server upgrades — and perhaps another $2 million in computers and other office improvements.
Before the mayor and D.C. Council dig into the city’s pockets to give more money to this agency, it needs to delve into its operations. This is not the first time there have been problems: Elections in 2008 and 2010 were problematic, and a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust’s State and Consumer Initiatives program showed that D.C. voters had some of the longest waits in the country.
People who are familiar with the office’s operations told us that there are systemic and personnel issues that require fundamental change. Training is inadequate, practices are outdated and there is a general lack of strategic thinking. Whether the city’s elected officials, who have a stake in the status quo, are interested in helping carry out that change is another story. No one has made reform a priority. Indeed, even when there have been modest attempts at reform — like adjusting the boundaries of precincts to equalize the number of voters or eliminating duplicative services — there’s been pushback.
It’s a sad fact that the only time attention is paid to the elections office is in the immediate aftermath of an election, particularly if things have gone wrong. If the office is ever to be made right, the city’s elected officials need to do more than just complain. We urge the next mayor to make this a priority.
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