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Election official says delays not due to faulty machines

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An official inserts a tally card into a reader Nov. 6, 2012, at the Rutherford County Election Commission in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
Despite technical delays in churning out results earlier this week, officials with the Rutherford County Election Commission insisted Friday that all of the votes have been accurately recorded and counted.

“I want to assure people their votes were counted,” said Nicole Lester, who serves as elections administrator for Rutherford County. “The voting machines did not malfunction. It was the process of transferring voting data from the machines to the computer that caused the delay.”

Lester said the difficulties arose when election officials began uploading the data from the tally cards, which are similar to a flash drive used to transfer documents from one a computer to another.

Because the readers were unable to transfer some of the information on the tally cards, election officials had to manually input the data from 15 of the 46 Rutherford County precincts into the computer, which did take more time than usual, she said.

She stressed, however, there are several safeguards put in place to protect the integrity of the votes, including three separate hard drives.

“If one fails, there are two other places for us to retrieve the voting data,” Lester said. “We always take several precautions to ensure that everything is recorded and counted properly. None of the votes were ever in jeopardy at any point.”

The technical difficulties with the tally cards were just one issue that officials had to address on Election Day.

A counting board consisting of 10 sequestered members was charged with the task of counting more than 1,900 of the nearly 3,000 absentee ballots that were mailed out prior to the election.

According to Tennessee law, the board is not allowed to begin counting votes until after the polls open on Election Day. In addition, results from that voting data are not released to the public until after the polls close, which is 7 p.m. in Rutherford County.

“We underestimated the amount of time it was going to take to count absentees,” said Ransom Jones, chairman of the Election Commission. “Had we known, we would have had more people on the counting board.”

As a result of the tally card issues and unexpected amount of time it took for the board to count ballots, the absentee voting results were not released until after 9 p.m.

Subsequently, early voting totals were not announced until a few hours later. The final results were released to the public and press just before 2 a.m.

In total, election officials counted 99,225 votes, which is nearly 63 percent of the total registered voter population – roughly 3 percent less than in the 2008 elections.

And even though Rutherford County overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party, as Tennessee voters have in recent years, some candidates who were vying for seats in contested races were uncertain of who won until Wednesday morning.

In particular, the totals from Rutherford County could have dramatically altered the outcome of the 4th Congressional District race.

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who was up for re-election, fended off a challenge from Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart.

Despite facing revelations involving extramarital affairs, DesJarlais edged out Stewart with nearly 60 percent of the entire votes cast in the 4th District race.

In Rutherford County, however, he received less than 53 percent of the 89,969 votes — beating out Stewart by only 5,121 votes. If the results had been reversed, Stewart could have possibly won the race.

“I understand why some candidates were anxious,” Lester said, “but it would have been a mistake to do anything that could have compromised the accuracy of the results.”
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Election Commission, Elections, Nicole Lester, Politics, Ransom Jones, Rutherford County, Voting
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