Drawing a Blank: Error Results in Some Ballots Without Names in Marion County, OR

[Image via marion.or.us]

A little more than two dozen voters in Marion County (Salem), Oregon got a surprise recently when their ballots arrived with no candidate names due to a design error. The Statesman-Journal has more:

A ballot design software glitch has left 28 Marion County election ballots without names of candidates less than a week before election day.

Roughly 28 out of 188,677 total ballots do not list candidates for election due to an error that occurred while ballots were generated using ballot software, said Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess.

The discovery came days after 318 South Salem residents received empty ballot envelopes due to an inserting process mix up, but this time officials don’t know the specific people who were affected.

“It spread throughout the county except for the city of Salem, the city of Stayton and Jefferson School District,” Burgess said.

The county learned of the error when a voter called in, confused by the blank ballot – and subsequently identified an issue in the ballot creation process that seems to have caused the problem:

The Marion County elections office prepared 257 different types of ballots for the May 16 election based on the precincts. There are 123 precincts in Marion County.

Burgess learned of the glitch early last week, when a woman called to say her ballot did not list any candidates.

Marion County Elections investigated the call and learned an image printed on the ballots was corrupted during the design process that caused the nameless ballots.

“In this case, the way the error manifested itself is that it printed everything but the candidates’ names on some ballots,” Burgess said.

It isn’t specified in the piece which image error affected the ballots, but it was such that the resulting problem was both small and seemingly randomly distributed across the County rather than focused on a specific contest or ballot style:

Burgess said the error has been identified and resolved with the manufacturer.

Since last week, the office has replaced seven nameless ballots to voters who either visited the elections office in person or received a new ballot in the mail. There are 21 ballots without listed candidates that have yet to be identified and resolved.

Burgess said it is impossible to narrow down the remaining 21 ballots to specific voters because the unique ballot number is not connected to the voter. That number merely ensures that a ballot is not scanned more than once.

“This time we have no idea who got these ballots so it’s not easy to narrow it down,” Burgess said.

This story feels like it should have a takeaway “practice pointer” for field – review the images, proof the ballots, etc. – but it’s not clear what could have prevented this error or how the County would have caught it before the ballots were delivered to voters. I’ll be curious to see/hear more about what happened; until then, however, I guess this just gets added to the already long list of things election officials worry about before, during and after Election Day.

Stay tuned …

 

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