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Problems Plague Tallying Of Results On Night Of D.C. Primary

Problems plagued the reporting of the results by the D.C. Board of Elections on Tuesday night.
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
Problems plagued the reporting of the results by the D.C. Board of Elections on Tuesday night.

A number of technical glitches delayed the posting of full and accurate results of the D.C. primary on Tuesday, leaving voters frustrated and campaign workers unsure of where their candidates stood in relation to the competition.

The polls closed at 8 p.m., but it wasn't until almost 2 a.m. the next morning that full results for the primary were posted on the website of the D.C. Board of Elections. In between, reports provided to media on-site and those posted on the website showed significant discrepancies, while other reports listing results only included paper ballots, not electronic ones.

Election officials also reported problems with electronic voting machines at five polling places, though they did not specify what the problems were or where they occurred until after most precincts had reported their results.

The problems started at 10 p.m., when the results of early voting were posted. A printed report provided at the board showed just over 10,000 early votes cast, while the same report posted on the board's website put the number at 9,000. Election officials were unable to explain the discrepancy at the time, nor were they able to say why the numbers were less than the 14,000 early votes announced Monday.

Two later reports of precinct-level results showed abnormally low counts, which election officials admitted had to do with the fact that only paper ballots — not electronic ones — were being counted and reported out to the press and public.

Those numbers could have been significant: According to the board, 43,000 voters opted for paper ballots on Tuesday, while 29,000 chose electronic machines.

During the fracas, campaign aides to Mayor Vincent Gray, who was trailing challenger Muriel Bowser, delayed any announcements on the election results until they could be sure that the numbers being reported were accurate. One TV journalist reporting live from the board called the board's performance "woefully inadequate."

It wasn't until close to midnight when updated reports of paper and electronic ballots were provided, and the final count of the election wasn't finalized and posted on the board's website until close to 2 a.m.

This isn't the first time that the board has had problems reporting the results: There were problems in 2008 and 2010.

In an interview, Clifford Tatum, the board's executive director, said that some of the problems stemmed from the fact that it had increased the number of electronic voting machines throughout the city from 143 in 2012 to 306 on Tuesday. That caused delays at some precincts, he said.

"Just by the numbers of the machines that we had out there, and the fact that our poll workers were for the first time, some of them, closing two IVOs [electronic voting machine] and three IVOs as opposed to the one IVO, it took a little longer than what we're used to," he said.

Tatum also said that once they discovered problems with electronic voting machines at five precincts, they stopped reporting results from all electronic voting machines across the city until they could be remedied. That involved sending election workers out to the precincts, which were in parts of wards 1, 3, 6, and 8.

On early voting, Tatum said that the board needed to reclassify some early votes. While 14,000 residents voted early, some of those were special ballots that should not have been included in the total.

Despite the problems, Tatum said that the timing of the results was consistent with past elections — in the April 2012 primary, he said, results were finalized by 11:02 p.m., while in the November 2012 general election they were done by 11:24 p.m.

Tatum also said that what mattered most was not when the results were reported, but that they were right.

"What we are confident of is that the results are accurate, and we're always concerned with results over speed," he said. "We're comfortable with the numbers."

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