by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Republican Party wastes no time in putting election night vote count problems at the feet of Secretary of State Charlie Daniels, including some Pulaski County uncertainty over the outcome of a primary race between Republicans that will decide (there are no Democratic candidates) a state House seat in Maumelle.
We note they second Pulaski County Election Commission coordinator Susan Inman's frustration with the statewide vendor chosen by Daniels' office for the required fully electronic vote machines. Question: Did the commission staff check the interface between those machines and the vote count machinery before election night?
UPDATE: We talked to Susan Inman, who's a veteran at the business, and we come away convinced that problems last night can be put mostly on the state vendor ES&S. Their own people admitted during the long night, she said, that their programming was faulty.
In short, ES&S was responsible for the software to blend and tally votes from the different types of voting machines used in Pulaski County (and elsewhere). They didn't get the software to the county in time to run a test of the tabulation program before the voting machines were "locked down" -- tested and deployed for early voting. Inman wrote begging for testing, but ES&S was never ready to perform it, she says. Come election night, the program didn't work. When the ES&S technicians finally got things working, the tally was wrong in at least 10 precincts represented in a smaller number of voting places where multiple precincts use optical scanner machines for differing ballots. The commission could tell soemthing was amiss because votes in Republican and Democratic ballots didn't square with the total ballots cast.
Bottom line: The totals in Pulaski County so far do not include votes in 10 precincts. They will be recounted on old-fashioned scanners today and then added manually, more or less, to existing totals rather than being run through the ES&S combined software. This should have little impact on the overall election outcome except for one thing: Inman said two or three of the precincts are in Maumelle and thus will affect the current dead heat in the Republican race for state representative there. She said she hoped for an answer this afternoon.
After talking with Inman, it seems clear that ES&S has some explaining to do. And then, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels must explain whether his office could have ridden the vendor harder to get completed software and full testing in time for the election. Also: Was he able to begin the process earlier, as Republican opponent Jim Lagrone insists?
Get ready for six months of debating the ins and outs of voting software and machines. We don't say this dismissively. It's important.
UPDATE II: Charlie Daniels chooses to emphasize the positive by saying there were only continuing tabulations in three counties, which he blamed on ES&S. What else could he do. His news release on the jump.
UPDATE III: ES&S does some butt-covering. Its news release also on the jump.
Full Republican news release on the jump.
Republican Party News release
Arkansas Deserves Better!!
Little Rock -- On Wednesday (May 24, 2006), Arkansas GOP Executive Director Clint Reed issued the following statement regarding voting issues in Pulaski County due to faulty programming problems by Secretary of State Charlie Daniels’ vendor, ES&S.
“First, the Republican Party of Arkansas commends the work done by county clerks and election commissions across Arkansas, but more specifically by Pulaski County Elections Coordinator Susan Inman and her staff for the work to try and implement a problematic voting service run by Charlie Daniels and company.
“In House of Representatives District 41 there appears to be a tie. The Arkansas GOP has two great candidates, Ed Garner and Doug Ladner, who deserve a fair and accurate account of the election results with certainty. However, due to Charlie Daniels’ ineffectiveness and lack of preparation, we are now waiting on his crew to re-program the voting machines to get either different or better results. Again, we are told these results still may not be accurate and certain.
“The voters of this state deserve to have their votes counted accurately! Furthermore, state and county election officials and the candidates across this state deserve better. Charlie Daniels’ cronies have truly provided a disservice to all of those involved.”
SECRETARY OF STATE NEWS RELEASE
Even though the Secretary of State’s office is still working to finalize results in three counties, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels remains very pleased with the overall performance of the state’s new touch-screen voting system. Throughout today, election commissioners and county clerks in a number of counties – large and small -- in every corner of the state have reported that they are very proud and excited about how smoothly their elections worked. As is the case in any election -- but particularly in an election like this where several types of voting technology were used -- issues are going to arise. This was a monumental change in technology, and the Secretary of State’s office expected a certain number of issues related to first-time use of new equipment or the marrying of different types of machines.
To that end, no matter how well most counties performed, Secretary Daniels and his staff are gravely concerned with tabulation problems, particularly in Lonoke, Phillips and Pulaski counties. The issues experienced by Phillips and Pulaski counties are in regard to old optical scanners that were not programmed adequately to count the paper ballots used in the election. In Lonoke County, programming errors also occurred with the new optical scan tabulator. Secretary Daniels is holding the vendor solely responsible for not communicating with the state and with county officials on the programming problems they were having. While Arkansas overall saw a generally successful election yesterday, the errors and delays in these three counties in particular are inexcusable. Secretary Daniels made that very clear to Election Systems & Software today.
Secretary Daniels met first thing this morning with ES&S Chief Executive Officer Aldo Tesi to resolve the communication issues that led to the situations experienced in Pulaski and Phillips counties. ES&S responded that they are aware of project management problems that occurred in Arkansas and their first step at Secretary Daniels’ request was to institute an immediate change in project management structure.
The Secretary of State’s office understands that the Pulaski County Election Commission will be working to resolve tabulation in the remaining precincts this afternoon. The Secretary of State is working with Phillips and Lonoke counties on their issues and will report more information as it becomes available.
Secretary Daniels is committed to a further review of the events that led up to the primary election that caused unfortunate problems in scattered areas throughout the state. Those issues will be addressed immediately following the run-off election. For now, the Secretary of State, Arkansas’s county election officials and ES&S turn their immediate focus toward preparations for the June 13 election. Secretary Daniels is pleased to see a positive step made by ES&S to improve their performance in Arkansas, but he will continue to be vigilant with monitoring their service as Arkansas moves forward toward a successful election in November.
Election Systems & Software
May 24, 2006 – UPDATE 4:30 p.m.
Despite issues we are still addressing to finalize the tabulation of some results, in general, yesterday was a positive day. 2,500 new iVotronic touch screen machines functioned extremely well – as the polls opened, during voting, and in the tabulation of results. Based on feedback we’ve received, voters had a good experience with the new system; and poll-worker-related challenges were limited to what we would expect in a first-time use. In several counties where officials used the new system, results were tabulated in record time – in Boone County, for example, results were reported about an hour after the polls closed last evening. This is a solid start to Secretary of State Daniels’ plans to implement the new system, statewide.
We are continuing to address tabulation issues in three of Arkansas’ 72 counties: Pulaski, Lonoke, and Phillips Counties. We sincerely regret the delay and are working to get the last remaining votes counted and results reported as quickly as possible.
Specific to Pulaski County, we have re-programmed Optech Eagle tabulators so they may be used to count the last remaining ballots from 22 of the 144 precincts. We expect further direction from the County later today on how they intend to proceed with the tabulation. ES&S has had a long-standing and very positive relationship with Pulaski County. We regret the current delay, and are committed to working diligently with Pulaski County to ensure a situation like this never happens again.
Since we were chosen as the state’s election partner, our goal has been to work with Secretary of State Daniels to vastly improve the election process, and to offer all Arkansas voters an enhanced voting experience. Though we believe yesterday’s election was a solid first step, we also recognize there are changes we have to make going forward.
In that regard, we do have confidence in our Arkansas team. However, we also know that we can always improve the service we provide. We are already in discussions with Secretary of State Daniels and his staff about how we can make the process even better for the upcoming run off and the November election. Building on that commitment, we will be restructuring our project management team and Mac Beeson will assume a permanent role as project manager. This will allow us to leverage the experience of our very successful implementation of Arkansas’ centralized voter registration system. We will also be strengthening communication with all of our Arkansas County partners. We are very confident that future elections in the state will be smooth.
It is critically important that Arkansas Counties know – and believe – they can count on ES&S to deliver the quality service they have come to expect from us. We will be working very hard to regain everyone’s confidence and to strengthen the relationships that are so important to us as a company.