No Small Stuff (Cont.): Harrison County, MS Clerk Sets Record Straight on Missing “Magical” Thumb Drive

[Image via sunjoy.us]

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a close election in Mississippi decided by one vote after a thumb drive with results was discovered and added to the Election Night count. Yesterday, the election official involved issued a statement clarifying what happened. Biloxi’s WLOX has more:

The canvassing of the ballots for the Senate District 50 race recount is set to begin Wednesday morning at Harrison County Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner’s office. But ahead of that recount, Ladner wants to set the record straight about what happened with the original vote count in the extremely tight race between Dixie Newman and Scott DeLano.

A day after the August 6 election, DeLano was quoted by The Sun Herald newspaper expressing his surprise when “a magical thumb drive” appeared after the initial vote count showed him winning the Senate seat. In the final certified vote, Dixie Newman ended up winning the seat by one vote.

Ladner promised voters on Monday that her office is able to say without question that, “every citizen who lawfully voted, had their vote counted and it was verified.”

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, Ladner released the following statement explaining in detail exactly what happened with the vote count in the Senate District 50 race:

On August 14, 2019 the Republican Executive Committee certified the results of the August 6, 2019 Primary Election, with Dixie Newman winning by one vote in the Senate District 50 race. Since this Election has been certified, I would like to take this time to correct some things that have been said in the media since the August 6 Election.
First, there was no ‘magical’ thumb drive, and at no point was a thumb drive lost or sitting on anyone’s desk all day. In all prior Elections, one scanner was sent to each precinct for the voters to scan their ballots. On August 6, in order to help alleviate the lines on Election Day, we deployed two scanners at two of the largest precincts in each district. At each precinct, a printout is made of each scanner (called a scanner tape) to record the vote from the paper ballots, then the electronic vote is downloaded to a ‘media stick’ or flash drive. The purpose of the print out is to have a printed record in addition to the electronic information stored on the ‘media stick’.
On Election night, both the scanner tapes and the ‘media sticks’ were received. However, when the ‘media sticks’ were being uploaded, one from the North Bay precinct was inadvertently overlooked in the ‘media bag’ because there is usually only one ‘media stick’ and not two. This resulted in the information on one ‘media stick’ from North Bay not being loaded and the unofficial results were reported. All ‘media sticks’ and bags were delivered to the Circuit Clerk’s Office Election night and stored. The chain of custody was never broken.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 7 the canvassing of the Affidavit and Resolution Board ballots began by the Republican Executive Committee members along with their appointees to the Resolution Board. For checks and balances, my deputy clerk was also going through the ‘media bags’ in the Circuit Clerk’s Office from Election night, and found that the second North Bay ‘media stick’ remained in the ‘media bag’, therefore it had not been uploaded Election night. This was completely unintentional and not to benefit any candidate.
I immediately called the tech, who upon arrival, uploaded it and a new unofficial report was printed. To ensure there was not an issue, this report was compared to the scanner tapes from the precinct (printed and signed by the poll mangers on Election night) and they matched 100 percent. At that point, I retained the ‘media bag’, ‘media stick’, scanner tapes and unofficial report in my office and on my desk until such time as the canvassing of the Affidavit and Resolution Board ballots was completed by the Executive Committee and ready to be scanned.
At the time the candidates arrived to watch the process of the Affidavit and Resolution Board ballots being scanned, I provided the explanation above to the candidates and their representatives (providing them with a copy of the unofficial report after the second North Bay ‘media stick’ was uploaded). All were advised that the new count, including the ‘media stick’, was compared against the scanner tapes printed and signed by the poll managers on Election night, and they matched 100 percent.
Once the Affidavit and Resolution ballots were scanned, Dixie Newman had a one vote lead, and was certified by the Republican Executive Committee to be the winner of the Senate District 50 seat. Although the second North Bay ‘media stick’ was not uploaded until the morning following the Election, the final outcome of the Election was not affected in any way shape or form. In fact, the final results were consistent with the scanner tapes printed and signed by the poll managers on Election night tapes. The results released on 8/6 were unofficial and remained unofficial until certified on 8/14/2019.
I will be the first person to say that this SHOULD NOT have happened, and steps have been taken to ensure it never happens again. However, the reason we have both the printed scanner tapes and the ‘media sticks’ is for checks and balances in case an error occurs. In this case, using both, we are able to say without question, that every citizen who lawfully voted, had their vote counted and it was verified both by the scanner tapes and the ‘media sticks’. [emphasis added – DMCj]
Throughout this process, we have been transparent and forthcoming with the candidates, their representatives, and the Republican Executive Committee. Our main goal is to ensure a fair and accurate Election as well as upholding the integrity of all Elections.
This election, and the supposed existence of a “magical thumb drive,” drew lots of attention – much of it focusing on the supposed chain of custody issues associated with the discovery of additional votes. Kudos to the Clerk both for explaining (in some detail) what happened and acknowledging that it shouldn’t have. There may be no small stuff in elections, but taking the time to set the record straight (especially in a race as close as this) is an excellent way to ensure that “not small” things don’t get even bigger. Stay tuned …

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