Many wondering about strange county election results website

November 6, 2013
This view of the Washington County elections office website shows results from the Washington City Council race Tuesday night.

If you were scratching your head in confusion Tuesday night while trying to figure out results in some races as presented on the Washington County elections results website, you weren’t alone.

“Every issue we could’ve had, we had last night,” said Barry Clark, telecommunications/project manager for the Washington County information technology department.

The most obvious problem appeared in races where a candidate had won nominations from more than one party. Bar graphs showed up as Republican red, Democratic blue and a black bar labeled “no party specified.” Each category had its own percentage and vote total, but the website did not display a grand total cast for candidates in these races.

The red and blue results showed straight-party ballots, and the black bars depicted votes cast by those who chose not to cast a straight-party vote.

The puzzling charts appeared in judicial and school board races where candidates have the opportunity to cross-file, or obtain nominations from each of the two major parties. It also gave an odd look to the results of the Washington City Council race in which Tracie Rotunda Graham had been nominated by both the Republican and Democratic parties.

“These should appear as one name, one total,” said Don Cortese, Washington County chief information officer. “They were created as different candidates even though it was the same person.

“It gives totals for Candidate A and totals for Candidate B, but it doesn’t know that they’re the same candidate.”

The county’s IT department ran a test of the system Tuesday, but tests are run before results become available.

“We apologize for not being able to address it last night,” Cortese said.

The county, which has an IT staff of nine, contacted its vendors to help straighten out the error message.

Cortese stressed that the database technical issues existed only for a person trying to comprehend the website, not with the tabulation of ballots in the elections office. The two offices have separate computer servers. “When you’re working with a product that’s cast in stone, you can’t touch it,” Cortese said.

Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi, who is also chairman of the Washington County Elections Board in years when he’s not a candidate, checked on the rollout of the electronic pollbook in the California area, ate dinner and stopped by the John Fogerty concert at California University of Pennsylvania, where he is a trustee, for 15 to 20 minutes before heading back to his office at Courthouse Square, where he checked results for the first 10 precincts that were displayed after 9:15 p.m.

He, too, was mystified.

“I didn’t understand some of the numbers, the graphs that were coming up,” Maggi said.

At 10:13 p.m., Clark sent an email to members of the media that read, “Sorry, we had issues.”

The county introduced bar graphs to its election results page before the 2012 presidential election, but the short-ballot national election did not feature the huge number of contests and the many candidates who had cross-filed, which Cortese said is permitted only in Pennsylvania and one other state.

Washington County’s turnout was very light, at just 21.3 percent.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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