Issue with GAB's canvass reporting system caused election night delay in Waukesha

Published on: 8/13/2014

Those who were waiting for the final results of the District 97 state assembly race in Waukesha County had to stay up into the early morning hours on Wednesday.

The reason for the delay?

Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Novack said an error in the Government Accountability Board's canvass reporting system resulted in voting totals across the city coming in extremely slow.

Final totals for the District 97 race were not in until just after 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, more than four hours after the polls closed on Tuesday night.

The voting totals in the District 97 race for the town of Genesee, town of Mukwonago and town of Waukesha came in relatively quickly, but everyone was waiting for the city of Waukesha's results. 

Novack received an email at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday from Michael Haas, elections division administrator of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, that said the Government Accountability Board was working to address a technical issue with its canvass reporting system.

Reid Magney, public information officer with the GAB, said the canvass reporting system has worked extremely well for five years without any problems and should not have impacted entering totals for other races outside of the Republican lieutenant governor race.

"It was working fine on Aug. 12 until 11 p.m. when the problem happened and the clerks could not see one race, the Republican Lt. Governor, to enter votes for it," Magney said. "Waukesha County officials were on the phone with us immediately to let us know about the problem."

All results are sent to the canvass reporting system directly from the municipality, Novack said. The county then receives copies of the canvass reporting system printed report from the municipalities and those are then entered onto the county's website and also into its backup program, done in cooperation with the county's IT Department.

Haas said because some counties, including Waukesha, use this system to tabulate and report unofficial election night results, it was preventing a complete report of votes in the Republican Party primary for lieutenant governor.

Haas said the issue arose at approximately 11:30 p.m. and the GAB's IT team began working to identify a solution. Novack said the issue impacted other counties across the state as well.

"Clerks could continue to enter vote totals for all the other races while our IT team worked on a solution for the Republican Lt. Governor primary, and in fact did do so," Magney said. "We fixed the problem in 90 minutes, but in that time the rest of the system was working fine and results could have been entered for the 97th Assembly District."

However, Novack said the city's input for the primary election was halted when the issue came up with the GAB. But Magney said the issue did not impact entering totals for other races outside of the lieutenant governor's race.

"Although clerks typically do not finalize results until all races are entered," Magney added.

Novack added her thoughts on the issue: "As long as there are blank fields for a ward, the wards results cannot be posted to the canvass reporting system for that ward. It was not until the GAB issued their email that any of the affected counties had a directive on how to proceed. Until their response, counties using the GAB/CRS system were in a state of limbo on how to proceed."

Novack, however, said the county was "about five minutes" away from using its backup system so the results could show up on the county's website.

"We were working with the GAB, but it finally got resolved," Novack said.

Magney said the GAB believes that at least part of the problem related to the "unique nature" of the Republican lieutenant governor primary, not to the fact that counties were using its canvass reporting system.

"It has to do with the unique circumstances that, unlike all other elections, individuals running for lieutenant governor are listed as separate candidates in the primary but not in the general election, and because the primary was unopposed," Magney said. "Also, it involved the way the statewide voter registration system and the canvass system prepares for the general election while primary results are being entered, so that general election absentee ballots can be prepared in time for the deadline to send them out to military and overseas voters.

"It was a unique electoral situation that the IT system encountered for the first time." 

Magney said his team is working on addressing issues so there are no problems in the future. 

"We make constant improvements to our IT systems and while we did not anticipate this as a problem before it occurred, our staff addressed it as soon as possible and we were up front in communicating the issue," Magney said. "Our team is working to ensure no similar problems occur on future election nights."

Scott Allen, a sales director for Shorewest Realtors, won the District 97 state assembly race with 34 percent of the vote. Humana consultant Brandon Rosner was his closest challenger with 29 percent of the vote.

The other four candidates (Kathleen Cummings, Vince Trovato, Aaron Perry and Joe Banske) were far behind.

With no Democratic challenger, Allen will replace Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Town of Waukesha), who did not seek re-election amid sexual assault charges in Waukesha County.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include comments from Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.