Langley City councilman-elect Craig Cyr’s curiosity about results in an Island County election led to the discovery of widespread errors on the county’s election results website, which is hosted by the state.
Precinct-level vote counts were wrong in at least eight races, though both state and county elections officials maintain that the total vote counts were accurate.
“The total vote count is absolutely correct,” said Michelle Reagan, county elections supervisor.
Reagan said her office became aware of the issue after Cyr called Thursday. She said the statewide system that displays the results “pulled” the precinct information incorrectly. Her office contacted the secretary of state’s office to have their technicians work on the issue.
It appeared that officials tried to correct some of the numbers as of Friday morning, but most of the totals still don’t add up. In a couple of cases, the candidate names were switched in precinct counts, but the numbers still didn’t add up.
Cyr said he was curious about the wide margin in the race between Brook Willeford and Linda Racicot for a South Whidbey School Board seat and looked at the precinct counts. The numbers, added up, showed a completely opposite result than was reported by Island County Elections Office, which is part of the county Auditor’s Office.
Cyr contacted the South Whidbey Record and reporters found many more discrepancies. The precinct data showed what appeared to be either much smaller margins than reported in the totals or, sometimes, opposite outcomes in multiple school board races, the Port of South Whidbey and Oak Harbor mayor and city council contests.
Cyr said Friday that he also found errors in precinct counts for Mason and Pend Oreille counties.
The online reporting is handled by the secretary of the state’s office on a software system that was launched for the first time this year. The system hit snags on election night because of a ballot ordering issue, which delayed the publishing of the results in Island County by about two hours after the numbers had been uploaded.
Kylee Zabel, secretary of state office communication director, said the office was able to work with the county, its IT department and the system vendor to determine the cumulative election vote totals were correct.
Counties pull the numbers directly from tabulators, Zabel said.
She said the state worked with Island County and determined the precinct identification was out of order, which caused the results to display incorrectly. It’s unclear how that could cause precinct numbers to be wrong for the Langley City Council race, which has only one precinct.
In addition, the office seemed to only be aware of the South Whidbey School Board race error. She said in an email Thursday night the “issue only impacted the precinct-level results display for one race in Island (County), and has been corrected.”
The South Whidbey School Board results display was corrected by Thursday night, but at least seven other races displayed precinct numbers that didn’t add up as of Friday morning.
The latest totals, for example, show Sherry Phay and Glenda Merwine prevailed in their respective races for the Coupeville School Board. However, based on precinct data posted as of Thursday night, both women appeared to be trailing their opponents.
Sherry Phay’s total vote count is 2,410 and her opponent Brent Stevens is 949. County and state officials said those totals, among all the others, are correct. But adding up the posted precinct data shows Phay earning 1,671 votes and Stevens 1,688. On Friday morning, Phay and Stevens’ names had switched columns from the night before, so the numbers listed under Phay were higher but still did not add up to the total.
Although the race results were reported correctly, the issue is still unsettling for Cyr.
“I am a data analyst,” Cyr said in a text message. “So when I discovered that the precinct counts in the South Whidbey School Board race did not total up to the posted total, I actually started shaking. Because I was worried that the total was wrong and that the results of the race would be reversed.”
Zabel said Friday afternoon the state office had corrected the incorrect areas and is “still working on determining the root cause.”