October 26, 1996 in Nation/World

Their Votes Counted - In Wrong District Computer Glitch Placed 33 Voters In Wrong District

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A handful of voters on a quiet lane in Hayden have been voting for all the wrong people.

Literally.

A computer glitch in Kootenai County’s elections office earlier this year placed 33 registered voters from tiny Tanager Avenue in the wrong legislative district.

The result: Residents on that street voted in May’s primary for people who couldn’t represent them.

While the error was caught in August, some residents were given incorrect ballots again this month when they attempted to vote absentee.

Election workers were able to intercept the bad ballots, and have sent out new ones.

But the mix-up has angered voters, frustrated candidates and opened the door for someone to contest November’s election results if races are close.

“How do I know for sure that I’m voting for the right people even now?” asked Hayden resident Frank Trutton, who plans to re-cast his absentee ballot.

The problem is a spin-off from efforts last year to realign county voting precincts.

Computer records wrongly placed Trutton and his neighbors in Legislative District 3, which covers Coeur d’Alene. They actually reside in District 2, which includes Rathdrum and Post Falls.

Trutton’s subdivision, Grouse Meadows, is new, so residents didn’t know any better. Neighbors like Gerald Higgs, a recent transplant from Texas, just studied the candidates in District 3 and voted accordingly in May’s primary.

“I felt like an idiot,” an angry Higgs said. “I’m a person who prides himself on being politically aware. It’s a terrible feeling to know your vote didn’t count.”

Actually, it did.

The error wasn’t caught until three months after the primary. Since only four of Higgs’ neighbors voted, it didn’t alter the outcome in any race.

But that wasn’t the end.

Election workers discovered the glitch when an area resident tried to register. They sent letters to Higgs and his neighbors.

But “it didn’t get recorded in the computer, though there was an intent to do that,” said County Clerk Dan English, who oversees elections.

Higgs, wanting to learn about a new set of candidates, visited with County Republican Chair Kathy Sims.

Sims was confused. She had supplied GOP candidates with a list of district boundaries obtained from the county in July - back when Higgs’ neighborhood was incorrectly labeled.

The wrong candidates - from both parties - had blanketed the neighborhood with literature. And a handful of voters, including Trutton, had already cast absentee ballots in those races.

“Fortunately no ballots had been processed at the time,” English said. “We received four or five in the mail and were able to intercept them and put them in the spoiled ballot box.”

His office mailed new ballots immediately. Sims argued voters might not receive them.

“Most people vote absentee because they’re leaving for Arizona or something,” she said.

English agreed that could be a problem.

“If it actually came to that point, somebody might have grounds to contest that,” English said. “If it came down to a handful of voters, that’s something somebody could raise as an issue.”

English apologized for the errors and said it wouldn’t happen again. He also said no others had come to light.

“There is a legitimate concern,” he said. “We certainly want the voters to know who they’re voting for. But it was a human error and our elections people have been giving 120 percent.”

, DataTimes


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email