GOSHEN — Nearly 200 ballots could be added to Elkhart County’s vote total this week after they went uncounted on Election Day due to a voting machine issue.
A card that recorded 194 votes was left locked in a voting machine after polling concluded at the vote center at New Hope United Methodist Church on C.R. 4 in Elkhart Tuesday night, according to Elkhart County Clerk Chris Anderson.
The center’s supervisor couldn’t get a security button on the voting machine to disengage the card.
“It didn’t release properly. They couldn’t get it out of the tabulation equipment,” Anderson said.
The card remained in the machine, and the machine was locked in a tamper-proof case. The case was locked up in a room of the church due to a misunderstanding about procedure, Anderson said.
The Indiana Election Division was also consulted on the issue Tuesday night.
Anderson returned to the church Wednesday morning when it re-opened and accessed the voting machine. He retrieved the card with some effort to activate the button. Anderson then returned the card to the Election Board office in Goshen and secured it.
Voter Registration Office Manager Chad Klingerman was expected to access the election data and enter it into the county’s tabulation software, monitored by a team of local Republican and Democrat party representatives, either Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Anderson said.
The 194 ballots will be counted and included as Election Day ballots into the county’s vote totals while the Election Board is now in a mandatory 10-day post-election period to examine provisional ballots for validation.
The missing ballots have the potential to affect some local races, depending on how they were cast. Anderson couldn’t predict which races would see changes.
“I wouldn’t even hazard to guess,” Anderson said.
The vote centers let local voters cast their ballots from any of the locations in the county instead of tying voters to precinct locations based on their addresses, so there’s no telling how the locked 194 votes are distributed until they’re counted.
CONNECTIVITY AN ISSUE
The network connecting the vote centers also led to some delays during Election Day’s first polling hours.
“There are always hiccups, and we experienced some of those with the connection limitations in the morning,” Anderson said.
The county’s 27 vote centers relied on wireless technology to remain updated on the voters who checked-in to vote. The real-time data provided a security feature to help prevent election fraud.
But some glitches created a drag, where instead of continuous information, the data would update after a couple minutes, which affected how fast workers could sign in voters.
“It was a slowdown in communication,” Anderson said.
The drag contributed to longer lines at some locations until the issue was resolved.
Lines also formed through the volume of voters who participated in the election.
The unofficial results from Anderson’s office show voter turnout reached nearly 45 percent.
Percentage-wise, the turnout was close to the more than 50-percent turnout Elkhart County experienced during the presidential election in 2016. Voter turnout this year also eclipsed the 27 percent turnout from the previous midterm election in 2014.
And while turnout was high in Elkhart County this year, other Indiana counties had similar or higher turnout figures.
Voter turnout in Kosciusko County was nearly 52 percent, while Noble County had a rate of 51 percent, according to their election reports. St. Joseph County reached nearly 49 percent, nearby Fulton County had a turnout of almost 56 percent, and Whitley County, next door to Fort Wayne, saw turnout of nearly 60 percent.
Straight-ticket party voting also surged in Elkhart County this year compared to the last midterm.
About two-thirds of the straight-ticket votes went to Republicans, and the 22,711 of those votes marked a 72 percent increase over the straight-ticket GOP votes in 2014.
Meanwhile, 11,100 Democrats voted straight ticket, amounting to a 147 percent increase from 2014, according to the county’s unofficial results.
The figures reflect the current state of partisan divisions in the U.S., according to Anderson’s initial impressions.
“The climate of the past of the two-and-a-half years at the national level has polarized the nation either for or against, and that’s bringing people out to vote,” Anderson said.
The turnout also apparently helped contribute to a delay in calculating the election results.
Results from 23 of the 27 vote centers were tabulated by close to 9 p.m. Tuesday, which was about par, according to Anderson.
But the process to turn in the ballots from the other four locations in the Elkhart area lagged due to glitches and long lines. One center still had voters queued after the polls closed at 6 p.m. The poll workers at that center had to let those voters cast their ballots before workers could close, pack up the equipment and make a long drive to deliver them to the County Administration Building in Goshen for tabulation, according to Anderson.
Aimee Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.