Ottawa County, Mich.'s Primary Election Results Slowed by Software, Dated Technology

There were two issues: The county’s election results website was unusually slow to update, and the way in which results must be reported during a primary from cities and townships.

by Amy Biolchini, Holland Sentinel, Mich. / August 5, 2016
Google is testing a new method of voting it hopes will cut election spending and improve decision making.Flickr/Jamelah E.

(TNS) -- Michigan’s August primary election went late in Ottawa County.

Tuesday’s voting decided the party nominations in a number of local races for the upcoming general election. It also approved some high-profile millage renewals, including for the Herrick District Library and county parks system. But Ottawa County residents had to wait a little longer to learn how it all turned out.

The goal, according to Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck, is to have results ready in time for the 11 p.m. news hour, giving local clerks three hours to gather results following poll closures at 8 p.m. Election results from the city of Holland and Park Township, however, weren’t published on the county’s site until 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.

“For us, it’s a frustration with our programming limitations in this election,” Roebuck said, noting the county hopes to have a new system in two years.

Holland Deputy City Clerk Anna Perales said the city had its election results finished by 10:41 p.m. Tuesday, but was instructed to wait for a runner, rather than send them by secure email transfer.

Roebuck said there were two issues. The first was the county’s election results website was unusually slow to update Tuesday night. The second is the way results must be reported during a primary from cities and townships.

In primary elections — due to the partisan nature of the ballots — all of the results in every race from each precinct must be transferred to the county office at the same time. It’s different than a general election, when results can be transmitted to the county on a precinct-by-precinct basis (which speeds the flow of information).

The Ottawa County elections office sent runners to some of the larger municipalities like Holland, Georgetown Township and Park Township to intercept some of the precinct results to attempt to speed up the process, Roebuck said.

“It was about getting the results as quickly as possible,” Roebuck said.

But the county’s website was lagging Tuesday night, causing a slow release of results.

“It was a software issue on our end getting it up on the website. It wasn’t working as well as we hoped last night,” said Steven Daitch, the county’s elections coordinator. “We’re doing the best we can without data technology.”

The county technology for elections is 12 to 15 years old, and still has a dial-up modem at the county office with a computer system running on Windows XP, Daitch said.

“It’s a software that we have to use and it works — it counts votes real well — but it’s cumbersome and it’s time for an upgrade,” Daitch said.

- Referencing the restrictive requirements for primary reporting, Roebuck said he expects the county's November general election to run smoother, even with the much higher voter turnout.

"It's more flexible in how the local jurisdiction can report," Roebuck said. "I think we will see a smoother process in our reporting overall."

Voter turnout in Ottawa County for Tuesday’s primary was slightly higher than the last two major primaries. Of the county’s nearly 200,000 registered voters, 43,700 cast ballots, coming out to just more than 22 percent.

Allegan County’s turnout was similar — about 20 percent, said Deputy Elections Clerk Jason Watts.

Ottawa County’s southern neighbor posted more than three-quarters of its election results by 10:20 p.m. Delay on the rest of the results was a standard one: Ottawa and Allegan counties operate incompatible voting systems.

“It’s kind of like a Windows and Apple situation,” Watts said. “Holland and Ottawa County have one type of machine and they can’t talk to our machines.”

As a result, runners have to hand deliver results from these precincts every election. On Tuesday, they arrived in Allegan just before midnight.

“Relatively early,” Watts said.

All-in-all, Watts described Tuesday as relatively low-key.

“It was sort of underwhelming,” Watts said. “But for an August primary, pretty typical.”

©2016 Holland Sentinel, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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