Jeremy Aldrich -- June 15th, 2010
Human error caused this morning’s problems with voting in all five Harrisonburg precincts, according to city election officials. Precinct officers were unable to use city-issued laptops to check the status of incoming voters for more than an hour, but things are now back to normal.
According to members of the city’s electoral board (Penny Paul Imeson, Sandra Price-Stroble, and Suzanne Obenshain), the software used to check voter registration status had not been properly set up by Assistant Registrar Jenny Brown. When precinct officers tried to check the status of the first voter at each precinct, the software froze. The office quickly became aware of the problem and Brown set to work setting up the software correctly and then manually going to each precinct to install it on each of the laptops being used. Brown says she takes full responsibility for the problem and the electoral board says it is taking steps to make sure this problem never happens again.
All precincts had at least one laptop able to check voter registration by 7:15, more than an hour after polls opened. In the meantime, voters were offered three options: they could wait while precinct officials called to verify their registration status with the registrar’s office in Harrisonburg, they could vote using a provisional ballot, or they could return at a later time to vote. Many voters chose the first option, but with five precincts and only three phone lines at the registrar’s office, that solution created additional problems of its own. 46 people chose to use provisional ballots. Election workers at the Keister precinct quickly ran through their seven official provisional ballots and improvised a solution for a further 29 ballots that involved hand-written or photocopied forms with the same information as normal provisional ballot envelopes, which were then placed in sealed letter envelopes and stored in a bag until the end of the day. The number of people who took the third option, to return later (or not to vote at all) is unknown.
Suzanne Obenshain says that during training last week, election officers were instructed to use provisional ballots if the machines were not working. However, many of them may have forgotten those instructions in the excitement surrounding this morning’s unusual circumstances. Obenshain added that the Wilt and Degner campaigns have been kept up-to-date throughout the morning, but that they don’t have contact information for Carolyn Frank (who has no campaign staff or office).
The provisional ballots will not be included in tonight’s unofficial election results, but will be included in tomorrow’s official total.
Some have questioned whether partisan politics might be at play in this situation, in light of recent scandals at the registrar’s office and the fact that county voters (who typically vote for Republicans in high percentages) did not face similar hurdles in voting this morning. Electoral board member Sandra Price-Stroble, a Democrat, responded: “I can honestly say this was a human error, technical error, whatever you want to call it. We’ve done everything we can to have a fair election.”