Software failure mars election night here and in 8 other counties

Published: Jun. 6, 2018 at 7:16 PM CDT
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All 44 new electronic poll machines that were supposed to help citizens speed through the check in process at polling precincts failed Tuesday in Pennington County.

The massive failure caused major delays in voting -- and vote counting. And the glitch hit other counties in the state as well.

This election was the first one that the new Electronic Pollbooks were used in every Pennington County precinct. They worked fine during a Rapid City water rate election this year but at 6 a.m. Tuesday election officials knew they had a problem.

Poll workers reported that their machines were "timing out" and had to get repeatedly rebooted. They switched to backup paper logs but in 16 precincts the paper logs weren't on hand and had to be delivered from the County Auditors office.

Voting was halted until the backup logs could be delivered. Poll hours were extended and at some locations extended all the way to 8:45 p.m.

"We tried new Electronic PollBooks in all of the precincts," said Pennington County Auditor Julie Pearson. "They worked fine when we did the city election earlier in the year. They were timing out so we had to replace them with the manual poll books."

The new machines were also supposed to track the unused ballots so a complete inventory can be kept.

This failure meant all of the unused ballots countywide had to be hand counted. That process further held up the vote counting.

"It was a big mountain of a counting job," said Pearson.

The software crash, blamed partly on faulty Wi-fi connectivity, also hit in Hughes, Brown, Brookings, Yankton, Sully, Hyde and Potter counties, according to George Munro with BPro, a Pierre-based company whose TotalVote software was adopted for the state's election system and built the Electronic PollBooks.

Munro from BPro said engineers were working around the clock trying to fix the glitch. He said he didn't suspect hacking but hasn't yet ruled it out. He added the company realizes it has a serious business problem on its hands.

"Every auditor has asked," about when the system will run properly, said Pearson. "And they are aware. And the secretary of state is aware as well. We can't use them if they are not going to function."