No Small Stuff (Cont.): DuPage, IL to Sue Vendor After Thick Cards Damage Machines, Delay Results

[Image via kyozou]

I’m fond of noting that the good news for election officials is that they don’t have to sweat the small stuff – but the bad news is that in elections there is no small stuff. The latest proof of that comes from DuPage County, IL, where the election office is preparing to sue one of its vendors because they say its poll-closing cards were too thick, damaging machines and delaying results in the recent primary. The Daily Herald has more:

The DuPage Election Commission plans to take legal action against one of its vendors for the error that caused election results to be delayed for hours during last month’s primary.

County election officials say the vendor, Liberty Systems LLC, made a mistake when it provided the wrong ballot-like cards needed to close DuPage’s optical scan voting machines. Officials discovered the ender cards were too thick to run through the voting machines that read paper ballots — but not until after the polls closed on March 20.

As a result, the commission took more than eight hours to count all the ballots, leaving some candidates uncertain about the outcome of their races into the wee hours and causing widespread embarrassment for the county.

On Monday, Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the board that oversees the commission, said Liberty Systems failed to perform its contractual obligations…

The Tremont-based company has four contracts with the commission. One is a multiyear, roughly $91,000 deal to provide kits containing Election Day supplies for polling places.

The ender cards are included in those kits.

Ender cards are standard and used to send a simple command to the optical scan machines to end voting and print results. The commission never had a problem with the ender cards it purchased for previous elections.

Because the cards were faulty, bipartisan teams of judges had to bring 268 of the voting machines to the election commission office in Wheaton to tabulate the results.

Vote totals from the first precincts weren’t reported until nearly 10 p.m. — a full three hours after the polls closed — and the final votes weren’t counted until around 3 a.m. the next day.

Pat Bond, the commission’s attorney, will work with the state’s attorney’s office to pursue legal remedies. At the very least, Bond said, the commission will seek to terminate Liberty Systems’ contract for the election supply kits.

Ficker Terrill said she also wants the commission to be compensated for financial damages.

“There are huge damages,” she said.

For example, Bond said “a significant number” of the voting machines were damaged when the faulty ender cards were used.

How many machines are broken is yet to be determined; Bond said they can’t be inspected until after the recount period ends.

Officials also must determine how much the election night problem cost the commission in terms of overtime pay.

Ficker Terrill said the commission had to devote the last few weeks to completing its final count of the results. Now that the results have been certified, she said, “we can begin to address the damages.”

“No small stuff”, indeed; I’ve been following election stories for years and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of this kind of problem. It’s a reminder (as if election officials need it) that even longtime vendors can make mistakes and therefore it’s dangerous to assume that prior success predicts future performance. It’ll be interesting to see what damages the County calculates and what, if any, luck they have obtaining them from the vendor.

Everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief that the “small stuff” demon has spared them this time … and stay tuned!

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