Listen to this article

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."

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).

Trending Videos