Lost in the shuffle

Ballot boxes are delivered to Election Central in Magnolia on Tuesday night after polls closed in the 2019 general election.

The delay of a final vote tally in Tuesday’s elections in Pike County can be blamed on a forgotten memory card.

Election commission chair Trudy Berger said Thursday that the bag with voting materials, including affidavit ballots and voting machine memory cards, that was returned to Election Central from the New Hope Baptist Church precinct was short one memory card.

“We had to retrieve the machine and get the card out before we could finish,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have ready access to the precincts.”

She said figuring out how to get to the machine, then sending two election commissioners and a deputy sheriff to pick it up and get it back to Magnolia while maintaining a chain of custody, took about an hour, pushing the final posting of results for the whole county to 12:23 a.m., according to the timestamp on the election results webpage.

The tape printed with the vote totals from the machine was in the bag returned to Election Central, so commissioners had access to the totals, but the totals could not be uploaded to the webpage until the card was retrieved.

Though it was after midnight when the count was completed and uploaded, “it was not later than the primary,” Berger said. “It was actually finished a little earlier than the primary count.”

She said the minimum of 14 hours spent setting up, working the polls and cleaning up and shutting down precincts can wear down pollworkers, who may feel extra pressure as pollwatchers and the public wait for results to be printed off the machines.

“It was just human error,” Berger said. “There’s hardly an election that goes by that there’s not a card left in one of the machines.”

At the other end of the evening, she said the Johnston Chapel information made it to Election Central first, about 8:05 p.m.

“They’re an experienced group, and they work well together” at Johnston Chapel, she said. “How long it takes (to close down a precinct) varies. There’s a lot of work to do processing absentee ballots and other things.

“It can depend on the number of people in the precinct, who are trying to decipher the tape. Some of those tapes are 15 feet long. A lot of the people waiting to see the tapes should probably wait on the radio or the website, because the tape numbers don’t include absentee ballots.”

She attributed a lull in vote reporting after the 11th precinct had posted to the absentee and curbside ballot processing and other tasks related to shutting down the precincts for the day.

“There were a number of boxes that had a high number of absentee ballots,” Berger said.

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