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Election office scrambles to explain 6th District error

Inaccurate results posted on the Election Commission website from the Washington County Republican Primary led to one 6th District commissioner receiving the largest number of votes, only to learn later he was no longer even in the running.
The incorrect order of names for commission candidates in the 6th District was spotted on the first draft of the ballot provided by Micro Vote Corp., the election services vendor Washington County has used for more than a decade.
“The names are supposed to be in alphabetical order, and Mark Ferguson’s and Tom Foster’s names were reversed,” Elections Administrator Maybell Stewart said late last week.
The error was corrected, she said, and the names were listed on the ballot in alphabetical order in all of the voting machines. The names also were downloaded in the correct order to the software used for tallying, which Stewart said assigns a number rather than a name to each candidate.
Unfortunately, according to Stewart, the correction in the order of Ferguson’s and Foster’s names had not been made in the machine that was used in the Election Commission office to read the tally cards brought in from the precincts on May 6. While the votes were recorded correctly at the polling places, they were posted to the website in the incorrect order, meaning the number of votes for Foster was posted to Ferguson and vice versa.
Calls to the Election Commission office and visits from Commissioner Joe Grandy alerted officials the numbers posted at the precincts from the site tallies did not match the vote totals on the website.
“Election commissioners and Micro Vote were checking the tapes before I even knew, and we were here until 2 a.m.,” Stewart said.
Once the mistake was confirmed, even though the numbers are still considered unofficial, the candidates had to be contacted. Instead of being the top vote-getter, Ferguson was not even in the running for the Aug. 7 General Election to keep his commission seat, and Foster was the candidate advancing to the next round.
A group including Election Commissioners Janet Willis and Jon Ruetz were with Stewart in her office in the courthouse when she dialed the first telephone number. Ruetz volunteered to speak with Ferguson and Foster in separate conversations and share the news about what had been discovered.
Stewart said Micro Vote assured the Election Commission and staff there was no way they could have seen the problem or even known how the error was occurring.
A statement released May 8 by Micro Vote Corp. included the following statements from President Jim Ries: “We take full responsibility for the website posting error which for a time led to confusion in the public regarding who was leading the 6th Commission District race. Unfortunately, our employee did not ensure that vote totals being uploaded to the Election Commission website were being attributed to the correct candidate and, as a result, inaccurate totals were posted on the website. Official vote tallies were unaffected by this website posting error which was unrelated to the official counting of ballots. The website posting of vote totals is not a part of the official vote tabulation process and vote totals are posted to the website as a service to the public.
“We have identified the reason that the website posting error occurred and are putting into place steps to ensure that such an error does not occur in the future. It is vitally important that every vote be counted in every election and we want the public to know that every vote was accurately collected and counted in Tuesday’s primary election in Washington County and the website posting error did not impact the integrity or accuracy of the primary election.”
Stewart said the error also caused the initial printouts of the early voting numbers to be incorrect, but the Micro Vote representative present on election night in Jonesborough was able to contact the Indianapolis office and obtain the correct reports of early voting.
According to Stewart, there is no reason to doubt early voting or election day totals in any other race because no other corrections were made to the draft of the ballot. “Nothing else changed, and no other candidates in the 6th District were affected,” she said.
The Election Commission has until Monday, May 26, to certify the election numbers. Once completed, Stewart said candidates then have five days to contest the election and request a recount.
“The tally tapes from the voting machines are the paper trail,” Stewart said. “Should there be a request for a recount, the tapes of the voters’ choices will be reviewed.” One copy of the tapes remains in the Election Commission Office, while a second copy is sent to Nashville.