Marshall Officials Plagued By Ballot Woes

MOUNDSVILLE – After weeks of counting and recounting votes, Marshall County officials last week discovered another 114 missed ballots that ultimately were included only in the county commission race.

Those ballots were found during a recount of the commission race Tuesday that resulted from an election night error.

After incumbent Jason “Jake” Padlow was named the winner of the race in unofficial totals released as the Nov. 6 election concluded, County Clerk Jan Pest realized that 2,912 early and absentee votes had not been added to the ballots cast on Election Day. At that point, Padlow was leading by 61 votes. When the error was corrected, the result showed Padlow losing his seat to challenger Robert Miller Jr. by 80 votes.

An official vote canvass followed on Nov. 13-14 and showed the Republican Miller with 6,218 votes and the Democrat Padlow with 6,148 – making Miller the winner by 70 votes, or a 0.56 percent margin.

Following the canvass Miller said, “I am very pleased with being confirmed yet again as the winner of the Marshall County Commissioner race. I am also pleased with the results of the recount on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 because it confirmed all previous vote counts and also confirmed the integrity and validity of the entire Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 general election in Marshall County.”

The results of all races reported after the canvass are considered the final and official election results.

“That changes vote totals,” Pest said of the canvass, which sees the addition of absentee votes submitted by mail but not received by Election Day, as well as all provisional ballots accepted by commissioners.

Padlow, however, sought a recount. All recounts had to be requested within three days after the canvass was completed.

Prior to the recount, Pest said, all reports her staff had generated from the automated system had included early and absentee votes combined in a single category. During the recount on Tuesday, however, Pest asked Richard Lockhart of Casto-Harris – a firm that provides technical support related to voting machines – to run a report that showed early votes separate from absentee ballots. When he did so, a 114-vote discrepancy was revealed.

According to Pest, this problem occurred because one voting machine was used for two different purposes during the election. Due to high turnout during the early voting period, Pest’s office made three voting machines available for use, rather than the usual two. One of those machines was later used to count absentee ballots on election night.

Pest said when PEBs, or personal electronic ballots, and flash card memory are inserted in one of the IVOtronic voting machines, 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 as 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 consequently rejected the 114 absentee ballots that had been run through that machine.

The software did not, however, notify users that a fail-safe had kicked in to prevent votes cast on the same machine from being counted twice.

“The additional votes in the county commission race that were discovered … or found had been held in suspension until we created two groups and it allowed the same serial number to be counted twice,” Pest noted.

“That is not an uncommon procedural error, but it is easy to see there wasn’t any malfeasance or voter fraud,” Lockhart said. “It’s just a preference thing – some county clerks like to split them up to see how many voted early and how many absentee. This was the first time they ever recycled a touchscreen. A lot of counties do recycle machines, so it’s very important they put early and absentee votes in separate groups.”

“The IVOtronic system has a simple safety mechanism integrated on the flash drive reading that will not allow you to duplicate the reading for that precinct,” said county Commissioner Brian Schambach. “When we split out the early and absentee ballots is when the votes that were already in the system appeared.

Any thought of anything done with intent is absurd,” he added.

Neither Padlow nor his attorney, Dan Guida of Weirton, returned calls seeking comment.

Lockhart said Casto-Harris provides training on how to use the machines and software upon request. But Pest termed the initial training on the IVOtronic system she received in 2006 “kind of minimal,” and she additional training through Casto-Harris and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office has not included as much hands-on experience with the machines as she would like.

“We work with clerks and poll workers to make the election process better throughout the Mountain State … ,” Lockhart added. “This was just one of those things we didn’t know they were going to do, and they didn’t ask” about requalifying a machine. … I know Jan and her staff will tweak some of their procedural efforts in the future.

“In comparison to some other county clerks, they run a tight ship and do good job overall,” he added. “This could have happened to anyone.”

After the problem was resolved, the recount showed Miller winning with 6,277 votes to Padlow’s 6,192. Just 0.68 percent of the vote separates the candidates.

The total 12,469 ballots in the race following the recount reflect an increase of 103 ballots over the 12,366 counted during the canvass. That means 11 of the ballots “found” during the recount did not include votes in the commission race.

Padlow paid a $300 bond for the recount. Its total cost – owed by Padlow – comes to about $420, Pest said. She said that money will pay additional workers for participating in the hand count. If the recount had reversed the result of the race, the county would have paid the cost.

Pest also noted none of the 114 missed ballots will be added to the results of other races in the county because those races were finalized with the canvass. She said, however, that she had re-examined all of the election results and felt confident the 114 ballots would not have changed the outcome of any race.

She also said this is the first time such a problem has occurred in Marshall Count.

“I am positive this has never happened before because I have never requalified a machine before,” Pest said.