You couldn’t know, unless you’re a reporter or an elections junkie, just how bad it got last Tuesday night when the primary results started rolling in.
A new five-member state Board of Elections, installed by Gov. Pat McCrory last year, presided over the worst vote accounting any reporter at this news operation has ever seen.
For years North Carolina outsourced its elections reporting to Tampa, Fla. firm, SOE Software. Terminating the contract saved the state $400,000 according to the Raleigh News & Observer, but it seems there was no plan in place other than to run in-house software that was woefully inadequate to the task.
The problems flew from the very beginning, when longtime political reporters were confronted with a new web interface that lacked many of the details that have been available for the last decade, notably real-time precinct total updates, color-coded precinct and district maps and other tools that provide much of the fodder when filing an election story on deadline.
As we moved along, the precinct totals didn’t match up — errors since acknowledged by the state Board of Elections — and at one point precinct totals disappeared from the interface altogether. Most troubling was at a period before midnight when several county election boards’ websites — including in Guilford and Forsyth — reported totals that didn’t match those posted by the Associated Press, which uses a different tallying method.
And all of it was happening while the deadline loomed.
Many of us took to Twitter to voice our discontent, which offered but temporary solace. The concern in this newsroom was the accuracy of the numbers on which we were reporting. One of the functions of the precinct totals and maps is transparency — we get to see how the totals are reached, in real time, instead of being presented with totals untethered to any real data. Even now, a week after the election, the precinct maps are unavailable online.
None of the results have been overturned or challenged. But the chaos of election night calls them into question.
It’s an outrage that we can get more real-time information for a college basketball game than we can for the cornerstone of our democracy.
And it’s a disgrace that the state Board of Elections wants to double down in its failure.
“We are not taking this from in-house to a vendor,” a spokesman told the Observer.
Like the election returns themselves, there’s not a lot to analyze in the statement.