Errors Prompt Election Changes

MOUNDSVILLE – A faulty vote count in a Marshall County Commission race in 2012 left some doubting the results and prompted changes to the county’s election process.

After 12 years in office, Democrat Commissioner Jason “Jake” Padlow suffered a controversial loss to Republican Bob Miller Jr. – even though unofficial vote totals released on election night indicated Padlow was the victor. Several days passed before Padlow and Miller learned that 2,912 ballots had not been included in total released Nov. 6.

When they were added to votes cast on Election Day, those early and absentee votes pushed Miller into the lead.

But that error was not the only one that occurred during the election process. Following the official canvass and a subsequent recount requested by Padlow, county Clerk Jan Pest discovered another 114 ballots had been passed over during the initial count and in the canvass. In the end, Miller bested Padlow by 85 votes.

Four different vote totals were reported during the course of the contest:

  • Padlow initially led Miller by 61 votes, 4,797-4,736;
  • Miller took an 80-vote lead after the first batch of missed votes was added to the total, making the unofficial result 6,173-6,093 in his favor;
  • Miller’s lead declined to 70 votes following the canvass, which yielded a declared total of 6,218 for Miller and 6,148 for Padlow;
  • Finally, the addition of the 114 votes found during the recount gave Miller an 85-vote lead with 6,277 votes for him and 6,192 for Padlow.

A month after Election Day on Dec. 7, Padlow reached a memorandum of understanding with Pest and Commissioners Don Mason and Brian Schambach. Padlow agreed he would not contest the election results in court, and the other county officials agreed to make nine changes to the election process. Those changes address several problems that affected the Padlow-Miller race.

In the memorandum, the commission agreed to purchase more iVotronic voting machines so that it will be unnecessary for the clerk’s office to use the same machine for two different purposes during a single election. This provision resulted after officials discovered the 114 votes that had been overlooked on election night and in the official vote canvass because a machine had been “requalified.”

An early voting machine was also used to count absentee ballots on election night. When personal electronic ballots and flash card memory are inserted in an IVOtronic voting machine, Pest said, the devices record a serial number from the machine. That happened when the machine in question was used for early voting. But it happened again after that machine was “zeroed-out” and “requalified” to count absentee ballots.

As a result, when the PEBs and flash cards were read while votes were tabulated on election night, the system software encountered the same machine serial number twice. Early votes were counted first, and the software accepted the machine’s serial number. But when the absentee votes were added to the same category, Pest said, the software recognized the serial number for a second time and rejected the 114 absentee ballots that had been run through that machine.

Another provision of the agreement is a response to the same concern. It states the county clerk’s office will separate early and absentee votes into two columns on all election reports.

The agreement further requires the clerk to designate a person to tally “ballots cast” from the first five precincts returned to the courthouse on election night. Those results are to be compared with the “total ballots cast” on the first report issued to the public. Employees will be assigned to ensure the cumulative reports generated on election night are “Election Totals,” including early and absentee ballots, and not merely “Election Day Totals.”

Padlow issued a statement after reaching the agreement but has not responded to subsequent calls seeking comment.

“I would like to thank the citizens of Marshall County for giving me the opportunity to serve them for the past 12 years,” Padlow’s statement said. “I will always be grateful to those persons who supported me through this election process and my time as commissioner. … After reviewing this matter with my counsel and giving it a lot of thought, I have decided to put an end to any further challenges to the results of the county commission race.

“However, it is abundantly clear that there were many flaws that occurred after all the votes were cast and the tabulation began. As a result, the Marshall County Commission and clerk’s office have agreed that changes will be instituted for all future elections beginning in 2013, which have been set forth in an agreement,” he added.

Pest said Friday that the agreement will have little impact on the operations of her office, noting she already had planned to make some changes to address the errors that occurred in the general election.