Buncombe elections officials: Returns were slow, but everything was fine

Tuesday night about 8:30 p.m, Nathan Ramsey was getting nervous.

The Republican chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners had seen a list of election results for his race against challenger David Gantt, but the numbers hadn’t been published to the Web. Standing in the Heritage Ballroom of the Grove Park Inn, which was bedecked in political signs and red, white and blue balloons, Ramsey punched a number into his cell phone to try to get an answer.

Meanwhile, an anxious crowd of local Democrats packed into a ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Resort kept staring at a projection screen hoping to see results. None were forthcoming. That prompted local party Chairwoman Kathy Sinclair to calm the crowd by announcing that the local elections board was experiencing a technical problem with its feed to Raleigh.

So what happened?

Ben Bryson, systems administrator and data analyst for the Buncombe elections board, said Wednesday that the transfer of elections results didn’t work Tuesday night. The issue was a problem with making sure the fields in the county’s database of information mapped correctly to fields in the state’s computer database, according to Bryson. During a test two weeks earlier, everything worked fine, but on election night, there was a problem.

Bryson stressed that there was no issue with the way Buncombe County’s voting machines worked, and he noted that the computer cards from the machines in every precinct were all in by shortly after 8 p.m. (Polls closed at 7:30 p.m.) Nor was there a problem with the way the machines tallied the votes, Bryson said. The issue was that Raleigh’s computers weren’t reading Buncombe’s data.

Bryson said that he saw the problem, checked with elections Director Trena Parker and decided to wait to see if state Board of Elections personnel in Raleigh could fix it. But the clock kept ticking, and in the end, Bryson and Parker decided to print out pages of results and create PDF documents, which were then loaded to Buncombe County’s elections board Web site by about 9:30 p.m.

The print-outs were also handed out to members of the media and anyone else who requested them at the Board of Elections office on College Street prior to them being posted to the Web, which explains how Ramsey had seen some of the numbers early in the night.

“We were reporting results by 9:30 in a monumental presidential election,” Parker said yesterday, “and we’re proud of that.” She noted that 83,940 residents had voted early, while another 35,000 or so voted on Election Day, for a turnout of about 70 percent of registered voters, one of the highest voter turnouts in recent years.

Bryson noted that the software the state was using to report election results is relatively new. It was first used in this year’s primary election. Each local elections board office has a computer that’s networked by the state to report results to Raleigh. “The real story is that it all worked really well,” Bryson said.

Bryson said he plans to talk with state elections officials about what went wrong, and the local board may talk about the issue at an upcoming meeting. The local board will canvass Tuesday’s results at an 11 a.m. meeting on Friday, Nov. 14, at its College Street offices.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


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