University Hall precinct finalizes in midterm election results

Broken voting machine repaired, votes counted, submitted


One of the three voting machines located at University Hall last Tuesday froze during election day. The 186 votes it registered were not accessed and submitted until Monday.

Wikimedia | Cavalier Daily

University Hall was the last precinct in the state of Virginia to report its final vote tally to the state Electoral Board Monday after a voting machine broke during Tuesday’s midterm election. An official count could not be obtained and submitted until state officials could extract and examine the results from the broken machine.

The University Hall precinct is the polling location for University students registered to vote in Albemarle County who live on Grounds or within the 22904 zip code.

“We’ve had Albemarle county since 1995, and this is the 1st time this event, nightmare, whatever you want to call it, happened. However, we’re very satisfied with the results of the operation.”

The tally from the precinct will complete this election cycle’s electoral process but will have no effect on the overall results of either of the Congressional elections or the proposed state amendment featured on last Tuesday’s ballot. The results of those elections were decided on Tuesday night — or, in the case of the Senate race, on Friday night, when Republican nominee Ed Gillespie ceded the race to Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.

The damaged machine was one of three used at the precinct Tuesday. Its malfunction came from a broken battery terminal on the machine, according to state voting technician Spooner Hull.

“Two of the four AA batteries on the motherboard were not operating,” Hull said. “When a technician was dispatched, he saw that the battery terminal had broken loose and the machine could not be used for the rest of the day”.

Hull, who has been employed as a certified technician by the Virginia State Board of Elections for more than 20 years, said this was the first incident of its kind. He also said he was ultimately satisfied with the efforts to retrieve the results from the damaged machine.

“We’ve had Albemarle county since 1995, and this is the first time this event — nightmare, whatever you want to call it — happened,” he said. “However, we’re very satisfied with the results of the operation.”

Jake Washburne, voter registrar for Albemarle County, praised Hull’s efforts to recover the missing results, though he also pointed out the relatively minor impact of the malfunction on the overall elections. Only 186 total votes were actually cast on the machine.

State officials had to be present when maintenance was performed on the machines Monday afternoon.

“Officers are coming this afternoon to recheck the results,” Washburne said. “We have the raw number the machine cranked out, but officials have to do the official count.”

Hull and a team at Dominion Power were able to extract the votes from the voting machine through extracting the cartridge and three chips from the motherboard of the malfunctioning machine and using an auxiliary board on another machine.

“Our first couple of attempts [to fix the machine] on Tuesday night were unsuccessful,” Hull said. “On Saturday, the machine produced the same result that it should have, which was believed to be at 186 on Tuesday”.

Center for Politics spokesperson Geoffrey Skelley said said malfunctioning voting machines, though marginally impactful in the voting tally, can have less direct consequences.

“Malfunctioning voting machines can hinder a precinct’s ability to serve voters in a timely manner,” Skelley said. “These kinds of problems aren’t going to necessarily discourage people from voting but they certainly can’t build confidence”.

Machine malfunctions can lead to precincts scrambling to provide alternative means of voting, like paper ballots, which are much more time consuming than the electronic machines currently used, Skelley said.

“The ideal system would be one where everyone who is qualified to vote and wants to vote is able to vote without hindrance,” Skelley said. “But we live in an imperfect world, so there are always going to be problems, no matter what system we use. Just think of Florida and hanging chads in 2000.”

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