COEUR d'ALENE - A glitch in the county's voter tabulation software caused a frustrating delay in the Tuesday night election process, according to Chief Deputy Clerk Pat Raffee.
The Kootenai County Elections staff was prepared for a night of counting they hoped would be final by midnight, but unexpected issues arose, causing almost an hour-and-a-half delay in the final vote count.
"We knew we had a lot of write-ins so we were prepared for that," Raffee said. "We had four write-in teams there to do just that."
The write-in teams consisted of three people each and they were charged with verifying the write-in votes. When the ballot-counting machine detects a write-in vote, that ballot is kicked out and sent to a write-in team to count by hand.
Raffee said the process went pretty smooth, but the real time-drain on Tuesday night's primary was a glitch in the software that tallies the votes after the machine counts them.
"The machine worked just fine," Raffee said. "The problem was a glitch in the software."
Raffee said staff counted the absentee ballots first and posted that report online. The report stated that absentees in 70 out of 70 precincts were counted, and that was correct, she said.
"The report that we posted at 10:41 p.m. stated that 11 out of 70 precincts were counted," she said, adding again those numbers were correct.
"When we did nine more precincts, the software went back to 70 out of 70 precincts counted, and we knew that wasn't correct," she said.
Raffee said rather than post the inaccurate precinct count, the staff finished counting all of the ballots before posting a count again online. That way Raffee could ensure that if the software said 70 out of 70 precincts counted, they were in fact counted.
The final posting occurred at 1:19 a.m., almost an hour and a half after elections staff had planned to wrap things up.
Raffee said she contacted the Secretary of State's office about the problem and learned that Ada County had the same problem. Ada County uses the same software vendor that Kootenai uses.
"Our software vendor is great and I am confident they can get this fixed," Raffee said, adding there was one other small surprise that election staff battled on the fly.
"Several of the ballots had to be duplicated," she said. "Due to printer error, the registration marks on some of the ballots were off, so the machine wouldn't read them."
In some cases, voters also failed to fully mark the ovals on the ballots in pencil, and the machine could not read those either.
While elections workers usually have to duplicate ballots in every election, she said this time they were a little overwhelmed.
They had to duplicate between 500 and 750 ballots, Raffee said. She had to set up a special team of duplicators to process those ballots.
The duplicators take the flawed ballots and fill out a fresh ballot exactly how the voter voted.
Both the original ballot and the duplicate ballot are numbered and stored separately in case of a challenge in the election.
"Duplication is a standard method used in elections all over the country," she said.
Due to the ballot issues, Raffee said she plans to work with the printing company that supplied the ballots to ensure that future ballots are printed correctly.
"And we are going to weigh the cost of providing ink pens at the polls rather than pencils," she said. "But that could be costly. People like to steal the pens."
The election results are unofficial until the canvass of the votes is presented to the Board of County Commissioners, Raffee said. The canvass meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday in the commissioner's boardroom at the County Administration Building. The public is welcome to attend.