Last updated 4:38PM ET
August 22, 2014
Local Features
Local Features
The problem with election night returns
(2010-11-12)
(wkms) - While many folks are glad the election is over and done, for most of many of us can relate to searching for results online - hitting that web browser refresh button over and over again. During Kentucky Education Television's coverage on election night, former Courier Journal political writer Al Cross and former Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Jennifer Moore criticized the Commonwealth's election returns website, saying it was under-performing. Since the media tends to be the public's main conduit for race results, Chris Taylor delves into the process of how vote totals are reported on election night

Bill Goodman- Welcome to 2010: The Vote
Cross- And because the Secretary of State's website is simply not performing up to speed, let's just go ahead and say it, we're unable to tell you exactly where these results are coming from.
Moore- Right, we can't see a breakdown by county or by precinct so we're just kind of having to rely on other sources telling us and that can be a little frustrating.

The general election was the Commonwealth's second time to use an interactive website contracted through the Florida-based company SOE Software. Kentucky Secretary of State Deputy Assistant Les Fugate says the site received hits totaling in the millions on election night, but traffic wasn't the problem. In a behind the scenes look at covering the state races on election night, many journalists can identify with Moore and Cross's frustrations. News outlets' goals are to quickly and accurately report totals so voters can go to bed knowing the results. The website was navigable, but incoming data was delayed and sporadic. Fugate says slow reporting on the site isn't the state's fault. Instead, he says the problem was priority at the county level.

Fugate- It's because there were a large number of write-in candidates on the ballot and many of the county clerks were choosing to go through and hand count those write-in votes before they sent us any results.

In several cases it was hours after the polls closed before unofficial results were available online. This is despite most counties' ability to simply plug in data cards to a computer as they receive them, which in turn automatically sends the data to the state site to be published online. Fugate says his office would absolutely like the results to come in faster, but isn't disappointed about this year's returns.

Fugate- If you compare it to the last comparable election cycle, we got the total results in faster this year than we did in 2006.

Fugate says it's up to individual clerks on how or even if they choose to offer unofficial results on election night. He says it's a service and isn't required by law.

Fugate- At this point, we're lucky to have the county clerks participate, so we're kind of at their mercy.

Fugate says his office encourages clerks to report results in a timely manner asking for incremental updates and even offers to provide counties with their own website to display local results. Another hurdle to faster reporting is that not all Kentucky counties are technologically up-to-date. Fugate says some Clerk's offices didn't even have internet and email access two years ago and several are still using outdated voting equipment.

Fugate- 75% of them use the newer systems, but we do have some counties where that's not the case and they do have to hand-input the data. We anticipate that in the next two to four years every county will have updated their voting systems and that will go away.

Calloway County is among that quarter of late adopters; about half of its machines are outdated models. Calloway was also among many counties which updated results to the state website after all its precincts reported in. County Clerk Ray Coursey says this next term his office will purchase an optical-scan paper ballot system now commonly used throughout the state.

Coursey- That's going to be a really good step for Calloway County to go from the 1992 technology straight into 2010 type stuff I just wish we were faster at generating the results.

And he may get that wish. Coursey promises once the old machines are gone, he will bring back reporting results - at least locally - as precincts trickle in. He says his office relies on the media to distribute election results and anticipates the new machines will enable faster reporting. Coursey explains the current setup of running a mix of new and old machines literally creates twice the amount of work for his office so workers are unable to input data on the fly. He's interested in sending the state website incremental updates as well, but says first the state needs to make some changes to the way data is entered.

Coursey- If Precinct 1 comes in here and I enter those results and then Precinct 2 comes in five minutes later, I have to go back and add Precinct 1 to Precinct 2 and re-enter the whole amount instead of them keeping a running cumulative total as we go.

Coursey says he wants to bring his office into the 21st century and hasn't been as fast as other county's to adopt the newer voting machines because of financial restrictions.

Coursey- A county the size of Calloway, you don't throw around $100,000 very lightly at all. I mean we try to scrimp by all we can on stuff like that.

Coursey is interested in getting Calloway's results online and says he'll look into using the state's local offering. If that doesn't work out, Calloway could follow Christian County's example. This election Clerk Mike Kem's office updated media sources using a constantly refreshing Google Documents Spreadsheet, which offered them a free way to distribute totals instantly. He calls the move a success and looks forward to doing it again next election.
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