By Cara Froedge
August 24, 2006
A “glitch” in Teton County's voting machines caused errors in unofficial results of the Jackson Town Council’s primary race released by election officials Tuesday night, they said Wednesday morning.
As a result, figures released Tuesday night showed that voters had ousted incumbent Jackson Town Councilman Steve Harrington. A “recalculation” showed that Harrington will advance to the general election along with Melissa Turley, Bob Lenz and Paul Vogelheim, according to the Teton County election officials.
Incumbent council member Scott Anderson will not advance, according to recalculated results posted by the county on the Internet at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
None of the other race counts were affected by the recalculation, officials said.
By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, officials had recounted 12 of 18 precincts and verified that the only problem appeared to be with the town council ballots. Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle said she was doing a complete recount.
A national organization aimed at promoting fair and accurate elections called VotersUnite.Org said Wednesday that Teton County isn't the only place that has experienced problems with these specific voting machines. Other counties that have had such problems found eight or nine races that were affected after conducting hand counts, said Director John Gideon.
According to the organization, 51 other counties have reported fouled elections due to problems similar to the one in this county.
“I think that it’s definitely cause to go and do complete recount of all the ballots,” Gideon said. “It shouldn't happen at all.”
Gideon said the voting problems should be caught and fixed during tests before the election.
“My guess is Teton County is not the only county where this problem is going to be,” Gideon said.
County Clerk Daigle said election officials discovered the problem “after nine” on Tuesday when workers began counting write-ins. Daigle left one voicemail message for a reporter at the Jackson Hole News&Guide newsroom at about 11 p.m., two and a half hours after handing out the incorrect results.
Daigle did not try to contact the reporter by her listed cell phone number or reach any of the paper’s editors.
“I want to apologize for the mix up,” Daigle said on Wednesday. “It was late. We were counting write-ins. I know I probably should have called her on her cell phone. I apologize for the mix up. I did make an effort. It wasn't good enough.”
Co-editor Thomas Dewell said reporters, editors and layout artists were working until 1 a.m. to bring accurate election results to more than 20,000 readers of the News&Guide and Jackson Hole Daily. Deadlines for both publications were pushed back to accommodate the results.
“The newsroom worked long hours to ensure accurate reporting to the Jackson Hole community,” he said. “We will redouble our efforts to work with the county in the future.”
The incorrect results showed that Melissa Turley, Bob Lenz and Paul Vogelheim earned the top three spots, respectively, and would advance to the Nov. 7 general election. Tim Sullivan was the fourth-place finisher, behind a slew of write-in votes that were not itemized when results were handed out at 8:30 p.m.
Hand-counted results in the “recalculation” show that Turley still garnered the most votes with 608. Lenz was second with 562, Harrington came in third with 464 and Vogelheim came in fourth with 423.
Incumbent Anderson earned 384 votes following the recalculation, far more than the 83 originally tallied by computers.
The problem involved a rotation system intended to prevent the same candidate from always appearing at the top of ballots in each voting precinct, Daigle said. In creating the rotation, a tabulation program substituted one of the two blank spaces provided for write-in candidates on the ballot with one of the candidates listed.
The effect was someone may have voted for a particular person, but the program counted the vote toward a write-in candidate instead of the person for whom the vote was intended.
The programming error affected 331 ballots and significantly altered the outcome of the race.
– Martin Reed contributed to this report.