Technological problem delayed Tuesday’s vote tally in Pitkin County
June 28, 2012
ASPEN – Though turnout in Tuesday’s election was light, the unofficial results couldn’t be released until nearly 1 a.m. because of a technological issue, Pitkin County elections manager Dwight Shellman III said Wednesday.
The polls for the election, which featured a four-man open primary for the District 4 seat on the Board of County Commissioners, closed at 7 p.m. Nearly six hours later, after Shellman worked around the technology problem, the unofficial results were released, showing that Capitol Creek rancher Steve Child and former Snowmass Village Town Manager John B. Young were the two top vote-getters in the race, pulling 666 and 524 votes respectively.
Child, a Democrat, and Young, who is unaffiliated, now will face off in a Nov. 6 runoff. Former Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob, also unaffiliated, ran third with 337 votes. Snowmass Village Town Councilman John Wilkinson, a Democrat, trailed the field with 207 votes.
Shellman said he discovered the problem at around 10:30 p.m. after most of the mail-in and Election Day precinct votes had already been tabulated. Turnout in the election – which also featured party primaries for congressional District 3, the District 61 state representative and district attorney for the 9th Judicial District – was 21.4 percent, or 1,789 ballots cast out of 8,356 active registered voters.
“Everything was going just great,” Shellman said. “We had two, as we customarily do, optical scan machines programmed for the mail-in ballots, and the first one I uploaded had the majority, 621 ballots. It uploaded without a problem.
“And then I went to upload the second one, 319 mail-in ballots, and our tabulation software was giving me an error saying, ‘You’ve already uploaded this memory card.’ I’ve never encountered this before.”
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Shellman said he’s not exactly sure why he got the error message.
“The software did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “If it believes it has already uploaded a card, to upload it again would override the results. So we had to develop a workaround system and basically do manual entry.”
He said he even got on the phone with the software vendor to try to iron out the issue to no avail. The long day compounded the problem; Shellman said he and other election workers had been on the job since before 5 a.m.
“You know, we were tired, but we wanted to make sure that the numbers we’re reporting are the numbers that we know we received from the precincts,” he said. “There’s a lot of tapes we have to look at and it takes awhile to verify.”
Shellman said he understands that voters and election observers want quick results, but there’s no regulation stating that the tallies have to be released on the night of an election.
The Nov. 6 general election features the county commissioner’s runoff, a presidential race and a possible item to raise property taxes for a library expansion. A much higher turnout of county voters is expected this fall compared with Tuesday’s election.
Shellman said he would work to ensure a smoother night.
“I don’t know what happened last night,” he said. “I may have made a programming error. If I did, I will learn from it, and it won’t happen again. … But my perspective is that it’s much more important for us to be accurate than early. And if it’s a late night, it’s a late night.”
Young, who garnered enough votes to make the runoff with the front-running Child, said he was confident heading into Election Day based on responses he had been receiving over the past week.
“I spoke to an awful lot of people,” Young said. “I probably handed out, one on one, about 1,400 of my brochures. I had a pretty good feeling that it was going OK, more based on the second or third time I bumped into people, after they had arrived at a conclusion that included me on their ballot.
“I went to bed on Monday night thinking I’m really going to be able to do this, and it happened.”
Young said he went to bed exhausted on Election Night, at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said he didn’t mind waiting to find out how he fared in the race.
“I had been campaigning really hard for 10 straight days, and to be honest, I hit the wall,” he said. “I woke up around 1:30 in the morning because the dog started barking, and I saw the results at that time.”
Child, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, told The Aspen Times on Tuesday night that he was encouraged by the early returns that showed him in the lead. He also complimented his three rivals in the race.
The District 4 seat is currently occupied by Jack Hatfield, who is being forced out because of term limits.