ST. GEORGE – An estimated 75 percent of the voting machines in Washington County Tuesday were initially rendered unusable due to a memory card programming snafu. As the County Clerk’s Office worked to resolve the issue, voters resorted to paper ballots while lines at polling sites grew increasingly longer.
“We made a mistake in programming,” Washington County Clerk Kim Hafen said.
Hafen said the memory cards used in the voting machines – of which there are around 360-380 in the county – tells the machines which precincts can be used for voting. This year all 104 precincts in the county were to be loaded on the cards so voters could show up anywhere there was a polling location.
The cards were programmed in four groups, Hafen said. He compared the process used to put voting info on the cards as being “copied and pasted” onto the cards. However, the first, second, and third groups of cards ended up having the information “cut and pasted” onto them instead, while the fourth group of cards was the only one that received the necessary voting information.
Once the cause was determined, the clerk’s office started sending people to the affected polling locations with cards that contained the right data. That started around 8:30 a.m., with Hafen delivering the last batch of cards to the Toquerville/LaVerkin area shortly after 12 p.m.
Hafen said responsibility for the voting machine issue rests with his office, as it oversees voting within the county as well as the use and upkeep of the machines. It is not contracted out to another source, and the machines themselves are not connected to the internet, so they could not be tampered with through that means.
“It’s my office,” Hafen said “The County Clerk’s Office is responsible for the elections… (This) hasn’t happened before and I guess I’m going to tell you it won’t happen again.”
While the voting machines were unavailable – the issue countywide appeared to be resolved by 2 p.m. or so – Hafen said people still had the opportunity to use a paper ballot.
At the Dixie Center St. George, poll manager James Peterson was among those who experienced problems with the voting machines.
“Beginning this morning at 7 o’clock when we opened, none of our machines would work,” he said. “So they had to take new memory cards and reprogram them and come back and redo the machines.”
Poll workers started using paper ballots instead of voting machines, and that went on for about two hours until working memory cards were delivered.
“It’s a lot smoother when the equipment works,” Peterson said. He has been working the polls for 12 years and this is the first time the memory cards were a problem.
Peterson said he was not sure how many paper ballots were cast, however, they had 12 chairs at a time filled with voters and four poll workers taking ballots.
Lines grew as additional time was taken to fill out paper ballots. At one location, voters said the wait was over an hour.
Some morning voters, like Jimi Kestin, left for the time being and returned later.
“The lines were kind of long this morning so I went back this afternoon.,” Kestin said. “The machines were working and the ladies who volunteered to work the polls were cheerful and helpful at Santa Clara City hall. The people in line were in generally good spirits aside from some grumbling about the choices on the ballot.”
As to the memory card issue, Mark Thomas, director of elections out of the Lt. Governor’s Office, said each county is different when it comes to how they test their equipment and so on. The system however, can be “very sensitive.”
“I can tell you that the system is very sensitive, and the reason it’s sensitive is to ensure it’s a security mechanism,” Thomas said. “Only under certain parameters will the memory card be programmed. And if you are ‘cutting and pasting,’ you have to be very careful because it might think that you’re someone that’s not authorized to go in and to do that type of activity, so then it just won’t read it if it’s not appropriate. I have no idea if that’s what happened here.”
Given that there was has been a heightened worry about the integrity of the voting system, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said he isn’t surprised people would be concerned about what happened Tuesday morning.
“I’m really kind of surprised this happened,” Iverson said, adding that the County Clerk’s Office is “really good” at the job it does.
“It was a little hiccup and they were able to get it solved pretty quick,” he said.
The Washington County Commission has no oversight over the elections proper, as that is the purview of the County Clerk’s Office. Where the commission is involved is with certification of the election results once the votes have been gathered and counted.
“In our county, I can’t vouch more for the folks handling the election,” Iverson said. “They do a real good job.”
Shortly after the issue with memory cards was resolved, Hafen issued an apology to voters for any inconveniences it may have caused them:
I want to apologize to anyone who had a longer wait this morning to vote, to anyone who had a poor voting experience or had unexpected heartburn because a number of our voting machines were not working when the polls opened this morning. We had an error in programming the “memory cards”. That error originated in our office. Once the error was discovered, we went about re-programming the memory cards in question and those corrected cards started to be delivered at about 8:30 am — the final corrected cards were delivered shortly after noon. We had number of people from various county departments help in getting those corrected cards delivered. I appreciate their help. Again, I apologize for what happened.
The polls will remain open until 8 p.m. Tuesday.
St. George News Assistant Editor and reporters Paul Dail, Julie Applegate and Ric Wayman contributed to this report.
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