Wake County kept ev­ery­one wait­ing – and wait­ing – for elec­tion night results

The News & Observer - - Front Page - BY ANNA JOHN­SON ajohn­son@new­sob­server.com

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 par­ties, 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 North Carolina 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 pick up the sup­plies. Those 10 trucks take 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 Jes­sica Holmes, Wake County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers chair­woman.

“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.”

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