The recount is finally over and the results are official. Hughes and Roberts will be facing each other in the runoff. Having been involved from the start of the recount, I have some observations that I hope will be helpful for future elections.
This election had a number of firsts. It is the first time we have used the Hart-Intercivic machines. It is the first election that Mike benton has ran since becoming elections administrator. It is the first recount of the new system. It was the first time I was involved in a recount.
My first observation is that more training is needed. This was a major change for the election judges and other officials involved. Work needs to be done in some basic areas.
Everyone involved in the election needs training in how to handle special situations. For example, there is a slot on the side of the paper ballot scanner that is only to be used when the scanner isn't working (during a power outage for example). A number of voters stuck their ballots in that slot by mistake. Procedures for handling that situation had to be developed on election day because no one anticipated that voters new to the procedure might stick their ballot in the wrong slot. Those ballots required special handling. First, some of them were overlooked on election night, and weren't included in the machine count. Second, somewhere during the counting or recounting process it appears these ballots were mixed in with the machine counted ballots, which kept the recount from matching the machine count. The number was small (around 50 ballots), but every vote is important. When the margin of victory is only 14 votes, 50 ballots is enough to change the results.
There were problems with keeping track of the machines. One of the machines used in early voting was also sent out to one of the precincts, which caused some votes to be overlooked at first.
There were problems getting all the machine ballots printed out which could have been a machine problem, or lack of training and experience by the elections office staff. The recount system we started with had to be refined as we went along. The ballots printed out from the electronic machines were usable but made it easy to miss a vote or count a vote in the wrong precinct. It also became obvious that the new scanners for the paper ballots have problems. They are sensitive enough to detect a relatively light check mark in the box. One problem we found on a few ballots was that the voter made the check so big, part of it extended into another candidates box. It was obvious to a human counter who the vote was for, but the machine saw marks in the box for more than one candidate and recorded it as an over vote. There were a few ballots where it looked like the voter had rested his pen in one box before voting for a different candidate. That also caused an over vote. Better voter briefings and education would help eliminate this type of problem.
The recount itself was a model of how we would like things to work. Everyone involved agreed from the start that there was only one goal: Determine exactly who the voters had selected. There was no animosity or rancor. All sides worked together. The frustration level was high at times, but it never got personal. When problems were found, the emphasis was on fixing the problem, not blaming someone. I hate to think what this would have been like if the race had been a bitter one. Hopefully the lessons we learned from this election and recount will be useful if we ever need to do another recount. I will leave my thoughts on the machines for another day but I am starting a page on voting information and problems.