Wake Board of Elections director addresses humidity and ballot machine issues
It’s an Election Day tradition to frantically click the refresh button to view results on the state’s Board of Elections website — and lament when the vote count comes in slowly.
But on Tuesday night, Wake County political watchers seemed to wait much longer than normal for results to trickle in.
The county Board of Elections Office tried to prepare political parities, candidates and members of the media that precinct results wouldn’t come in for several hours. It took more than three hours after polls closed at 7:30 p.m. for precinct results to appear on the state’s website, while similarly large N.C. counties such as Mecklenburg and Guilford already had results posting.
So what gives?
Several changes and logistical challenges explain why the first results weren’t posted sooner, said Gary Sims, the Wake elections director.
This year’s primary and general election were the first elections where results weren’t transferred via modem from individual Wake County polling sites.
“While those uploads were secure, it was possible to get some identifying information on each end,” said Greg Flynn, the Wake County Board of Elections vice chairman. Flynn tweeted behind-the-scene photos of the election night process. “The information was never compromised, but the state said we can’t do that any more.”
When the voter totals were transferred via modem they could come in much quicker. Now, each of the 204 precincts must pack up its ballots and supplies and take them to one of 10 staging locations, where large trucks picked up the supplies. Those 10 trucks then took the supplies to the county’s warehouse.
So why not more trucks? Or have more staging areas? That’s another challenge.
The ballots are taken and securely stored at the Board of Elections warehouse on Atlantic Avenue in Raleigh. It’s been the main storage and collection site for ballots for more than five years.
“We cannot have 204 cars driving in to that location at one time,” Sims said. “It’s physically impossible.”
But this was the last election that the county will use this warehouse. A new facility will be used on New Hope Road for next year’s municipal elections and for years to come. That site will eventually house the entire Board of Elections department, which is now spaced out over three locations including in downtown Raleigh.
“I am so excited,” Sims said. “I couldn’t be happier about the new site.”
The results still won’t come in as fast as they did when transferred via modem, but the results will likely come in faster in future years because more trucks and vehicles will be able to drive directly to this site.
Both Flynn and Sims said they were pleased with the election night process and that the last numbers came in around the same time as those in peer counties.
“I think the biggest thing is there needs to be a change in expectation,” Flynn said. “Not being able to dial in the results, it stopped cold turkey. And people are going through withdrawal symptoms.”
It takes each precinct more than an hour to finish all of its post election work to get the ballots to the remote location site. And that was coupled with 17-inch ballots that may not have been read at first because of the level of humidity Wake County had this Election Day. Those ballots were stored in a secure emergency bin and fed into the machines when the polls were closed.
Another reason for the longer than normal wait times is that people who are in line when the polls close have the opportunity to vote.
There’s always room to do better and room for improvement, said Wake County Commissioner Chairwoman Jessica Holmes.
“It is more important we get it right than to rush,” she said. “And that’s our focus moving forward. Every election is a learning opportunity, and we will continue to ensure that every vote is counted and that we do so as efficiently and quickly as possible. But we put a priority on doing it right instead of rushing the process.”