New Brunswick election vote-counting glitch: What went wrong?
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, September 23, 2014 1:11PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 24, 2014 12:01AM EDT
Elections New Brunswick is assuring voters that the results of the provincial vote are accurate, despite a two-hour delay in reporting the numbers that’s been blamed on a glitch in the tabulation system.
The Liberals swept the Conservatives from power in a vote that was decided in the early morning hours Tuesday, after a problem was discovered in the vote recording process.
By morning, New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer Mike Quinn said that the problem was not with how the votes were counted.
“There’s no failure as far as the counting of the ballots, absolutely not,” Quinn told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning.
“What was the failure here was a delay in the recording process, which took us an hour to determine, and another hour or two to correct. So there’s no failure in the results.”
Here’s an overview of what election officials believe went awry, and whether similar problems could arise again.
Voting results are posted to the Elections New Brunswick website in a two-step process, Quinn explained in an interview with CTV Atlantic. First, poll results are called in to a returning office, where they are manually entered into the system and posted online.
Later on, memory cards from tabulation machines are brought from polling stations to the local returning office. The results from the memory cards are then uploaded to the Elections New Brunswick website, replacing the results that were entered manually.
Elections officials noticed that there was a “slight discrepancy” between the data from some of the memory cards and the numbers that were entered manually.
Around 10:30 p.m. local time, officials decided that they would stop posting results to the web until they had all the memory cards because “we trust those numbers,” Quinn said.
However, four hours after polls had closed, dozens of memory cards had yet to be brought in to the returning offices.
The data from the memory cards was finally uploaded to Elections New Brunswick’s website in the early morning hours Tuesday, and the Liberals were declared the winners.
How did it happen?
A company called Dominion Voting designed a system for Elections New Brunswick to get voting results online more quickly. Five officials from Dominion were in the province to ensure that the system operated smoothly on election night.
James Hoover, vice president of product line management at Dominion, told reporters Tuesday that a piece of software the company used as part of their new system malfunctioned.
Company officials first noticed a problem while the results that had been manually entered were being replaced with the data from the memory cards.
The company immediately stopped uploading results, Hoover said.
The software did not cause a problem when the new system was tested prior to election night, he said.
Can it happen again?
Dominion Voting could not immediately say why the software malfunctioned, and it was unclear after Tuesday’s conference call whether that question will ever be answered.
Meanwhile, elections officials from jurisdictions across the country were in New Brunswick to observe how well the new system worked.
Anton Koschany, executive producer of CTV’s W5 and a long-time producer of CTV’s election coverage, said he noticed that, of 49 ridings in New Brunswick, 38 had vote count errors and rollbacks.
“That’s an astounding number,” he told CTV News Channel Tuesday from New Brunswick.
The discrepancies between the manual vote count and the memory card data was a matter of thousands of votes in some ridings.
Given the problems, “I think the answer has to be stay away until they can figure this out,” Koschany said of whether the new system should be used in other jurisdictions.
Will there be a recount?
The results that are on Elections New Brunswick’s website now are not the official results, Quinn noted Tuesday. By law, the official results are posted four days later, on what is known as “declaration day,” he said. In this case, the official results will be posted Friday.
In the wake of the technical glitch, the provincial Conservatives called for every ballot to be counted by hand to ensure all votes are counted properly.
However, a recount can only occur by a judge’s order, Quinn said.
An automatic recount will occur in any riding that was decided by 25 votes or less, he said.
And all candidates will receive official reports from a returning officer that they can look over. Any candidate that wants a recount must apply to a judge, and that judge has to be satisfied that a recount is justified, he said.
University of King’s College professor Dean Jobb says five ridings were decided by fewer than 100 votes. “That does lead to the possibility of some recounts,” he told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday.
But even if those ridings are recounted, Jobb suspects the Liberals will remain in power. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Gallant government is in power going forward,” he said.