- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Elections officials in the nation’s capital say they’ve addressed computer glitches that led to major delays in counting votes during the April 1 primary, but critics say the process of identifying and fixing the problem was slow and insufficiently transparent.

The vote totals will be closely watched in November, with the District of Columbia on track for its most competitive general election for mayor in 20 years.

In April, it took nearly four hours after polls closed for results sufficient to call the winner to be made available. D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser defeated scandal-plagued Mayor Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary, making her the favorite to win the general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

According to the D.C. Board of Elections, a widespread network connectivity error led to the delays in counting votes. It’s since been repaired, the board said last month. That was different from the explanation the elections board offered on the chaotic primary night, when it blamed a handful of malfunctioning electronic machines.

The server problems prevented early vote totals from being posted soon after polls closed, and the delays cascaded from there, said Clifford Tatum, executive director of the elections board.

“We’ve made the repairs, and we feel confident that we will have a good, clean, accurate and fast election,” Tatum said. “We shouldn’t have any of those issues we had April 1.”

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said he’s also been told that the problems were addressed, but he’s disappointed that a report on the failures was not available in time for an oversight hearing he held last month. The report wasn’t completed until two weeks after the hearing.

“I have received these assurances from them, but it wasn’t in a way that would have shed the most light on it so people would know what was going on,” said McDuffie, a Democrat who chairs the council’s government operations committee.

Dorothy Brizill, a longtime civic activist and a close observer of elections in the District, said she’s lost confidence in the ability of the board to administer elections. Server problems date back to 2008, she said, “and guess what? They’re still using the same server.”

The board also hasn’t asked the mayor and the council for money to buy new equipment or train staff, Brizill said.

The board is also using outdated electronic voting machines. According to its internal report, the machines are refurbished models that were purchased at a deep discount and were supposed to be replaced after 2010. The machines still work, but new ones would be necessary to count votes any faster than what’s been done in other recent city elections, when most if not all results have been posted by 11:30 p.m., Tatum said.

The board will employ 48 roving technicians on Election Day to work on the machines as needed, up from 15 on primary day.

Turnout for the primary was the lowest in more than 30 years, but just because fewer people voted doesn’t mean the votes can be counted more quickly, Tatum said. The city has 143 precincts, and poll workers have to drive equipment to the elections board offices downtown after the polls close at 8 p.m.

While the Democratic nominee has won every mayoral election in 40 years of District of Columbia self-rule, this year’s election could be closer than usual. The most recent independent poll showed Bower leading her closest rival, independent D.C. Councilmember David Catania, by eight percentage points.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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