Computer hiccup keeps Dorchester County from counting votes before midnight
FOUR HOLES SWAMP — As excuses go, losing your homework in an “invisible box” wouldn’t fly.
But that’s what Dorchester County elections workers said happened to 43 precincts worth of votes Tuesday night.
No voting results were broadcast on the county website until after 11 p.m., and most results not until well after midnight.
It left Dorchester District 2 School Board candidates at a campaign party scrambling unsuccessfully on cellphones to get numbers, and County Councilman Bill Hearn peering with a flashlight through the window of a locked door at one polling place to tally his results posted inside.
“Any self-respecting candidate carries a flashlight,” Hearn kidded Wednesday. But it was, he agreed, a lot like the old days in the 1990s, when candidates simply went home Tuesday uncertain whether they won until Wednesday or Thursday.
“You take away that little detail called technology and it does take you back,” he said.
The “invisible box” is real enough. Polling place tallies are fed to the Unity computer program at the county elections board. The votes recorded correctly, but software designed to move votes into slots for individual candidates did not, said Joshua Dickard, elections director.
The software is set up with “boxes” to direct those votes that the operators can’t see when the program is running.
The problem was fixed in 45 minutes, but with the boxes invisible, elections workers couldn’t be sure it was. So 43 precincts worth of individual race results also were entered manually, checked and cross-checked to be certain, Dickard said.
“I was checking every single race on every single report. I wanted to make sure every vote was counted properly,” he said Wednesday. “The important thing is, all the votes were accounted for. All the results matched.”
Call it another casualty to the age of instant gratification.
“It was frustrating. Computers can be so wonderful when they work,” said school board member Lisa Tupper. “We expected instant results. We were looking for someplace to go for answers and there wasn’t any.”
Dickard didn’t get home until nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday, and was back at work six hours later to meet the software vendor to fix another glitch that kept Delemar precinct votes from recording at all.
Election workers were blindsided by the box problem, which hadn’t happened before, Dickard said.
“The good news is, it wasn’t anything fatal (irreparable),” he said. “We’re going to figure out what we missed. We’re going to fix it for the next time.”