Big election night errors discovered

Big election night errors discovered

County clerk: Ballot design flaw threw off count in uncontested races

URBANA — A lengthy retabulation of the March 18 primary results in Champaign County uncovered major discrepancies in some unofficial vote totals reported on election night.

In the uncontested race for 13th Congressional District Democratic Central Committeewoman, for example, Jayne Mazotti of Taylorville now has 5,284 votes — rather than the 450 votes with which she was credited on March 18.

In another race — for 15th Congressional District Democratic Central Committeeman — Brandon Phelps had 517 votes, not the 574 votes he was credited with on election night.

The badly erroneous election results all were in the Democratic Party primary and all in uncontested races where there was just one candidate for one position.

They were the result, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, of a flaw in the design of the Democratic ballot. A one-inch white space apparently caused tabulators to misread votes cast in all the races below that spot, affecting vote totals in the uncontested races for 13th and 15th Congressional District committeeman; the 13th and 15th Congressional District committeewoman; and all precinct committeeman races.

Hulten pointed out, however, that the results reported on election night are unofficial.

"We have by statute a window where we review and make corrections to unofficial results before we make them official. We do this every election," Hulten said Friday. "We are well within the statutory time period to make corrections to our election results.

"The attention which this has gotten has been unusual, but there's nothing unusual about adjusting and making corrections to election results during the period when they are unofficial."

Election returns in Champaign County won't be made official until Tuesday, once late-arriving absentee ballots and valid provision ballots are counted. Hulten said that nearly 20 provisional votes and roughly 50 late-arriving absentee votes remain to be counted, meaning that even the results of the 11-hour machine retabulation conducted earlier this week will change.

"We will count those and make yet another adjustment to our election results," he said.

Hulten said he spent "all week" on the retabulation, including calling other election officials and arranging for election judges to do the machine recount of all 8,517 Democratic primary ballots cast in Champaign County.

He stated repeatedly that each of the races where the election results were wildly erroneous were "entirely inconsequential because everything that is voted on by a party committeeman is based on the weighted party vote, based on the number of ballots cast in their precinct or district. So it doesn't matter whether a precinct committeeman got one vote or 780 votes.

"This is not a small undertaking. We did a massive amount of work, to do post-election audit and retabulation. ... We did it because we want to make sure that everybody in Champaign County who cast a vote understands that their vote has been counted accurately when we make our results official."

Hulten was clearly angry about online reporting and commenting about the erroneous results.

"We just went through a monumental effort to reissue these to make sure they're 100 percent accurate, so obviously we think there is validity to this," he said. "But there are some people running around as if the world is coming to an end.

"In most counties, they don't release (election) numbers with the details and the breadth that we do, and they don't do it as quickly as we do. Cook County, for example, doesn't release precinct results on election night. All they release is summaries. The day and a half of proofing that we've just done and are still doing with these election results, maybe there's some validity to considering doing that before we release results on election night.

"I think that's unnecessary and overkill, but if folks are going to look at inconsequential results and jump to conspiracy theories about them, then ..."

Minor changes were uncovered in some contested Democratic races, Hulten said, but those were the result of poorly marked ballots or cases where a voter appeared to rest a pen within the oval on a ballot.

"One of the most reassuring things is that we just retabulated 8,500 ballots and on those 8,500 ballots there were tens of thousands of ovals filled in, and rerunning all of the same ballots through the same machines twice, the grand total number of ovals that were counted inconsistently by the machines were in single digits. It was an incredibly consistent count," he said.

"Obviously, we never want to go through this again," said Hulten, who is up for re-election this fall but currently has no Democratic opponent. "It reinforces how politicized election administration is that both parties will take any situation that occurs in election administration and try to use it to their gain.

"We're going to do an overkill amount of proofing and testing of our ballots in future elections. We never want to go through with this again and the suspicions that it raises, even among those who have nakedly partisan interests, doesn't serve anyone's purposes very well. Our job is to make suspicions about election administration go away. When we have issues like this, partisans will fan those suspicions as much as possible."

Sections (2):News, Local

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

DEB wrote on March 29, 2014 at 7:03 am

Taylorville is now in Champaign County? That would be the real news here! Why on earth are we counting ballots for Christian County?

sweet caroline wrote on March 29, 2014 at 8:03 am

No wonder there's a recount if Taylorville has moved to Champaign County.  I'm always the last to know.

rsp wrote on March 29, 2014 at 9:03 am

13th Congressional District Democratic Central Committeewoman, for example, Jayne Mazotti of Taylorville

It's sad that you guys are posting and don't know you are part of the 13th Congressional District. Do you remember Rodney Davis? From Taylorville? I bet he knows Jayne.

Joe American wrote on March 29, 2014 at 11:03 pm

More sadly, they probably voted.  And obviously, blindly.

Political Observer wrote on April 04, 2014 at 2:04 am

That's a good point, RSP.  I bet you're right, that Rodney Davis does indeed know Jayne Mazzotti.

In fact, since Jack Mazzotti is the Chair of the Christian County Democratic Party, I bet Rodney Davis knows not only Jayne Mazzotti, but Jack Mazzotti, as well.

Since the "Too Much White Space" Ballot Design Boo Boo caused the Incredible Hult's voting machines to miss some 92% of Jayne Mazzotti's votes, the end result was an appearance that Jayne Mazzotti had been absolutely trounced by Under more than a 16 to 1 margin, in fact (7325 under votes / 450 votes).  Now, that's quite embarrassing...quite embarrassing, indeed, when your own party rejects you by more than a 16 to 1 margin in an unopposed race...Especially when the other state committee member who's listed on the ballot immediately below you and who's also running unopposed is overwhelmingly confirmed, by a 5 to 1 margin!

I sure hope that Mr. Hulten was quick to call the Mazzottis and apologize for his massive blunder, and any embarrassment that his "Too Much White Space" may have caused them.

Or did he tell them that it didn't really make any difference, anyway, just like he told us in his quoted statements above?


Sid Saltfork wrote on March 29, 2014 at 11:03 am

Maybe, the speed of predicting the outcomes has taken on more importance than the accuracy of the outcomes.  Instead of the election night 10 p.m. news being able to announce the winners, and losers; time should be taken until the total vote is counted, and determined accurate.  "We want it now" should be replaced with "We want it accurate, and honest".

Political Observer wrote on April 04, 2014 at 3:04 am

No, Sid, there's no problem with the speed of reporting the outcomes.  That's just a red herring that Hulten's throwing out there when he says, "The day and a half of proofing that we've just done and are still doing with these election results, maybe there's some validity to considering doing that before we release results on election night."

What he's really saying here is, "OK, if you start questioning me and finding errors in my work, I'm just not going to let you see the results any more...I'll make you wait and wait for the results, so that you won't have time to make any corrections to the election data before I make them official."

Instead of paying too much attention to Hulten's deceptions and distractions and his "Too Much White Space" snowjobs, you might be better off taking a closer look at what Democratic County Chairman Al Klein wrote about what's going on here:

The County Clerk explains that the errors are the result of a synchronization failure between the layout of the paper ballots and their electronic counterparts in the tabulators. This caused the tabulators to associate some votes/undervotes with the wrong candidates/races in many precincts. This was not the fault of the voters, the election judges, the tabulating equipment, or the state-certified software which aggregates and reports the votes. The invalid results are entirely due to the failure of Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten to properly synchronize the paper ballots with their tabulator ballot descriptions.

To correct these unofficial results before they are certified, the Clerk proposes to correctly synchronize every tabulator with the ballots it processed, and then use those machines to recount all Democratic Ballots in Champaign County. I concur with this procedure. He has also agreed to employ a more comprehensive system pre-test for the November, 2014 election. That test, used in the past but discontinued as a cost-saving measure, would have detected this fault before election day.


I'd like to emphasize that last sentence, "That test, used in the past but discontinued as a cost-saving measure, would have detected this fault before election day."

So...No, it's not the case that the Gordy Boo Boo story has anything having to do with the speed of reporting the outcomes.  And it doesn't have anything to do with Hulten's repeated claims of, "Too Much White Space," either.

In actual point of fact, Hulten's Massive Ballot-Tabulating Faux Pas occurred because of a "synchronization failure between the layout of the paper ballots and their electronic counterparts in the tabulators" that was wholly due to actions taken by Mr. Hulten himself.   And Hulten also would have detected his synchronization failure long before election day if he hadn't discarded the standard pre-test procedure in a mis-guided attempt to save a little money.


johnny wrote on April 08, 2014 at 4:04 am

I'm less upset about the attempt to save taxpayer dollars than threatening to withhold precinct results instead of admitting what's obvious:  the attempt to save taxpayer dollars didn't work out so well.  I don't want elected officials who threaten their own constituents, and I worry about anybody who would.

johnny wrote on March 29, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Full accountability would be nice, rather than claims of partisanship when concerns are coming from both sides of the aisle.

Political Observer wrote on April 04, 2014 at 3:04 am

Well said, Johnny!  You and I often find ourselves on opposing sides of many issues, so I'm glad we can find occasional issues where we find ourselves in general agreement.

johnny wrote on April 08, 2014 at 4:04 am

Just found this and want to express thanks.  Online debate is strange; I think sometimes it's more awkward to have a rare disagreement with someone than to disagree almost all the time.

In any case, we're both passionate political junkies, so we can't be that different.  Cheers!