New Voting Tech in Jasper County, Iowa, Performed Flawlessly in Primary

Not only did the new technology allow the county to quickly count thousands of ballots, it also allowed the county to be first in Iowa to post results on the Secretary of State’s website.

by Jason W. Brooks, Newton Daily News, Iowa / June 10, 2016

(TNS) -- With some new technology in place, there were at least a few nervous moments over the past few weeks in the Jasper County, Iowa, Auditor’s office.

Despite all the testing and re-testing of new software and hardware, designed to streamline and simplify the ballot-counting and reporting process, it still had yet to be tried out in a real-life election cycle. Tuesday’s primary was the first chance for the Jasper County Auditor staff to use many components of the system in a full, live collection of data and reporting it to the Secretary of State.

As it turned out, not only did the new technology allow Jasper County to quickly count thousands of ballots — it also allowed the county to be first in Iowa in having results posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

Deputy Auditor Tina Mulgrew said the machines and software went flawlessly.

“It was like a dream,” Mulgrew said. “There are a lot of different types of frustration in each day, so it’s nice that at a moment when there is so much immediate focus on this process, it went so well. The system worked like it was supposed to, and we had everything sent off about 20 minutes after the polls closed.”

While practically no one expects a system to fail or roots for that to happen, it’s common in elections to expect at least a few snags.

“I’ve been doing this since 2007, and in each even-year cycle, it seems like there was nearly always something that went wrong,” Mulgrew said. “But this time, there were no glitches. It was an emotional time, in that we were very happy.”

Aside from a flash-drive transfer used to get results from the ballot-counting machine to a computer to send results to the state (a built-in safeguard for security purposes), the process is largely paperless in terms of data movement. A recent demonstration of Jasper County machinery showed how swiftly ballots are counted.

The results reported online Tuesday evening will be unofficial until next week’s official canvassing and June 20 deadline for submitting a report to the state. However, the Auditor’s office only received 21 absentee ballots Wednesday with the correct June 6 deadline postmark date and a proper signature, and with that number expected to drop each business day, it’s unlikely any of Tuesday’s outcomes would be changed.

Mulgrew said one aspect that made preparing for the primary a smooth process has been the responsiveness of Election Systems & Software — a company the county is paying thousands of dollars per year in contracting for equipment and support.

“They have been ready to quickly and easily deal with all the concerns we’ve brought up,” Mulgrew said.

The deputy auditor said with all the news made through the years about election technology issues, it’s refreshing to have something go well the first time around.

“Sometimes technology is our friend,” Mulgrew said. “Tuesday night was one of those times.”

©2016 the Newton Daily News (Newton, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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