Test data causes glitch in early vote counts

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ST. CROIX - A former Elections official has raised questions about what appear to be discrepancies in unofficial vote counts that the V.I. Elections System posted at different times on Saturday evening as the results from the primary election were rolling in.

However, a spokeswoman from the company that sold the V.I. Elections System the DS200 vote tabulating machines said there is a simple explanation for what occurred - and that the final unofficial tallies posted in the system from Saturday's count are the correct ones.

"The results are absolutely correct at this time," said Kathy Rogers, a spokeswoman for Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software.

Former V.I. Elections System Supervisor John Abramson Jr. raised the issue in a letter Monday to St. Croix Board of Elections Chairman Adelbert Bryan. Abramson seeks an explanation of "discrepancies," in which a few candidates appear to lose votes that had already been counted.

Bryan said Monday afternoon that he had not yet seen Abramson's letter.

Point-in-time reports

On Saturday night as primary election results were being counted, the V.I. Elections System posted what appeared to be three different point-in-time vote counts on its website, one at 9:14 p.m., one at 9:41 p.m. and a final one at 9:47 p.m.

For most candidates, the number of votes increased during that time, as would be expected as a count progressed.

However, for a few candidates, the changes between the 9:41 p.m. posting and the 9:47 p.m. results involved their vote totals going down - giving the impression of votes disappearing - rather than staying the same or going up.

Specifically, Delegate to Congress candidate Emmett Hansen II had a total vote count of 340 at 9:14 p.m.

Hansen's votes went up to 675 with the 9:41 p.m. printout. However, six minutes later, at 9:47 p.m., the final count showed Hansen's vote total had gone down to 664, a loss of 11 votes in those six minutes.

Hansen said Monday afternoon that he was upset about the situation.

"Mathematically, I don't understand how that happens. I think they're going to be hard-pressed to explain it," Hansen said. "When we're looking at the vote count and it keeps going down, it makes me wonder. I've never, ever seen anything like that before, and I've been involved in a lot elections."

He said he had been back at work on Monday, and had not yet spoken to anyone at Elections, but that he intends to.

"I have to make sure I have all my Ts crossed and my Is dotted before I do that," he said.

A few other numbers went down instead of up between the 9:41 p.m. posting and 9:47 p.m. results, including those for the candidates in the Republican state chairmanship race, and those for the total number of Republicans and Independent Citizens Movement voters voting.

In the Republican state chairman race, John Canegata had 49 votes at 9:14 p.m., while the 9:41 p.m. posting shows him with 76 votes. Six minutes later, in the 9:47 p.m. numbers, though, he has 55 votes, a loss of 21 votes.

In the same race, Herbert Schoenbohm showed 19 votes at 9:14 p.m., 51 votes at 9:41 p.m., then dropped down to 42 votes at 9:47 p.m., a loss of 9 votes.

Election integrity

Abramson notes in his letter that in the "ballots cast" section, the total ballots cast for the Republican party over the course of the three postings goes from 81 up to 151, and then down to 117 ballots, a reduction of 34 ballots in the final count. For the ICM party, the count went from a total of 18 ballots cast, up to 35 and then down to 28, a reduction of seven.

He notes similar trends in the voter turnout percentages.

"I am hereby requesting a full explanation and accounting of the aforementioned discrepancies from the St. Croix District Board of Election," Abramson wrote. "Although these discrepancies may seem marginal, it could represent a flaw in the reporting system of the DS200 tabulating units, and moreover, a disenfranchisement of voters and candidates alike. These discrepancies pose a concern as to the integrity of the entire primary election results."

Links to all three counts were still posted on the Election System's website most of the day on Monday.

However, sometime late Monday afternoon, the links to the 9:14 p.m. and 9:41 p.m. counts were removed from the website, leaving only the 9:47 p.m. final tally from Saturday's count.

'Minor discrepancies'

V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes did not return a Daily News message seeking an explanation on Monday.

"I don't have an explanation offhand why we are seeing those minor discrepancies," St. Croix Deputy Elections Supervisor Genevieve Whitaker said Monday afternoon. She said the 9:47 p.m. count is the final, unofficial result from Saturday's count.

Bryan referred questions on the matter to the representative who is in the territory from Election Systems & Software, or ES&S, which sold the tabulating machines and software to the Elections System and provides technical support.

The representative said she is not authorized to speak to reporters, though, and referred inquiries to the company.

Error uploading reports

Rogers, ES&S senior vice president of government relations, said in a voicemail she left in response to a Daily News inquiry that the problem happened when an error occurred as election results were being uploaded.

"What occurred was during the process of uploading the election results for the primary election, an error occurred when an ES&S associate inadvertently uploaded a results file which had some test data in it," Rogers said. "This was during the unofficial time of the upload of the results. No votes were compromised, no votes were changed and the correct totals were uploaded that night."

Rogers said that the ES&S worker mistakenly picked up the wrong file during the posting of the results. She stressed that the mistake did not occur during tabulation, but when results were posted.

"Matter of fact, when a later file was uploaded, it simply erased the original results that were incorrect and the right results were then added to the system," Rogers said. "And the right results are the ones that are up there now, and the incorrect file was corrected."

The Boards of Elections in both districts are still in the process of counting ballots - including absentee ballots - and the vote count will not be official until all votes are counted and the boards vote to certify the results.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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