Secretary of state tells Mahoning elections board to document error


By DAVID SKOLNICK

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

After a mistake led to the double counting of more than 6,000 early-vote ballots, the Ohio secretary of state is ordering the Mahoning County Board of Elections to “conduct a formal internal review” of what went wrong.

The mistake was made in the board’s “final unofficial” results distributed to the media and others on election night, Nov. 7.

In a Wednesday letter to the board members, Secretary of State Jon Husted wrote the report “must document how the tabulation error occurred and what steps the board plans to implement to ensure that a similar error is not repeated and that the media and the public are notified of any amended unofficial election results.”

Husted wrote in the letter that he wants a draft report no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 28.

Mark Munroe, Mahoning elections board chairman, said the request is appropriate, and the board will take a number of steps to make sure the problem doesn’t occur again.

Deputy Director Thomas McCabe said he failed to reset a scanner that had counted early-vote paper ballots before he inserted 18 ballots that were voted curbside at polling locations.

That resulted in 6,161 early-vote ballots being counted twice on the “final unofficial” report that the board ran at 10:27 p.m. election night.

The mistake was detected about 10 to 15 minutes later by Chris Rakocy, the board’s information technology manager, and an “amended final” report was created at 11:02 p.m. on Election Night.

But election officials didn’t contact the media and others about the mistake. Instead, election officials just updated the results on the elections board’s website.

“We’ve had discussions about what we could and should do differently,” Munroe said. “We’ll discuss them further at the next board meeting” next Wednesday.

Among the possible changes, he said, are restricting who is permitted inside the room where ballots are counted to reduce distractions; notifying all “interested parties, particularly the media,” if a mistake is made; and waiting five to 10 minutes to review paper reports before they’re released to the public.

“All of those actions are appropriate,” Munroe said. The mistake “is something that should not have happened.”

In his letter, Husted pointed out that the incorrect information provided by the board to The Vindicator led the newspaper to publish the wrong vote totals the day after the election – “inadvertently misleading the electorate, and calling into question the accuracy and credibility of the board’s unofficial canvas.”

The newspaper reprinted the correct results a day later.

“Though the error did not change the outcome of any contest in this election, it is not unusual for a local contest to result in a tie or be decided by one vote, which underscores the importance of ensuring the proper tabulation of votes and reporting of accurate vote totals,” Husted wrote.

None of the winning and losing candidates changed, but a 2.8-mill, five-year additional fire levy in Berlin ended up being approved when it failed with the double count.

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