Last November, you probably recall that we had a controversial statewide ballot issue in an otherwise tame off-year election. The full legalization of marijuana, both for recreational and medical use, was up for vote, and it drove a lot more people to the polls than usual in an odd year.
Unless you’re from the Cincinnati area, what you may not have heard is that there were technical problems in Hamilton County. A judge eventually ordered that the polls stay open an extra 90 minutes so that no one was denied the opportunity to vote.
Judge Robert Ruehlman argued everyone should have a chance to vote even when system glitches happen. “I think just to be fair make sure everybody gets a chance to vote that’s the right decision, that’s what I’m going to do, alright,” said Ruehlman in court.
The Hamilton County BOE was already looking ahead to this year and expressing worry over getting it right for the presidential election.
The delays, mistakes and technological glitches that plagued Tuesday’s vote caused headaches for everyone involved in the process. But election officials know that’s nothing compared to the epic migraine they’d get if those errors are repeated next fall, during a presidential election that could hinge on Ohio and Hamilton County.
“We’re in a crucial state in a presidential election year and we’ve got to get it right,” said Alex Triantafilou, a board of elections member and the chairman of the county GOP.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” he said of Tuesday’s vote. “Last night was a disaster, and we need to fix it.”
Hamilton County was using a new system of electronic poll books and sign-ins from a company called Tenex that was supposed to make the process faster. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the BOE nor Tenex was completely prepared. In a post-election report to the Secretary of State, the BOE stated that:
- 65% of voting locations reported problems with router to printer connectivity.
- 43% of voting locations had problems finding voters in the new e-Poll books. Those voters had to vote provisionally.
- 2,764 voters were told by the system that they had “registered too late” and were forced to vote provisionally. In actuality, they had registered in time, but Tenex had failed to update a key database that was left over from a special election in August.
Ravi Kallem, the president of the software company Tenex, apologized to the board, the poll workers and the voting public for the problems.
Kallem assured the board that the problems would be “a simple fix” and could be accomplished in plenty of time for the March 2016 presidential primary.
One of the biggest problems encountered was that a programming error by Tenex set a wrong date. Voters who had registered after the August special election and before the Oct. 5 voter registration deadline were not showing up as registered voters when their IDs were scanned.
That probably accounted for several thousand voters being forced to cast provisional ballots – which will be counted before the election results are certified by the board Nov. 24.
“Change of this magnitude is going to come with problems, big or small,’’ Kallem said.
There were other problems as well, but these were some of the bigger issues that caused so many delays that day.
Now Cuyahoga County is in the process of converting to electronic poll books, and Tenex is one of the vendors they are considering.
Since it’s a presidential year, and Ohio is always a key state, the upcoming election in November will have much much greater turnout than we saw in 2015. Does Ohio’s largest county want to risk having the same type of problems that Hamilton County did?
Let’s pray that both Hamilton and Cuyahoga County get it right and that Ohio’s election results this November don’t come into question because of the same type of problems we saw in 2015.