Mayors call for accountability after Johnson County voting mess

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – The mayors of Johnson County’s two largest cities are calling for accountability after computer problems brought countywide voting to a virtual halt for several hours on Election Day.

And while the mayors have no jurisdiction over county-run elections, they say the extended delays affected their residents who were trying to vote Tuesday.

“We shouldn’t be paying for a system that we struggle with,” said Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett. “I mean this is 2018.”

Barnett and Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers hope county election officials will reexamine their agreement with Omaha-based Election Systems and Software.

“Obviously, there’s a problem with this vendor and the vendor needs to be held accountable,” Myers said. “He sold us a faulty piece of equipment.”

Roughly three hours into voting Tuesday, Johnson County Clerk Sue Ann Misiniec said ES&S servers became overloaded due to the volume of high voter turnout. The effect in Johnson County was a countywide slowdown of the e-poll books used to confirm voters’ IDs and check them in at polling locations.

“Once everyone else got on board in the nation, it slowed everything down,” Misiniec said Tuesday. “Their server couldn’t handle it.”

Voters found themselves waiting in line for several hours as online systems seemed to freeze. Some voters, like Jennifer Albright, left their polling site without voting.

“I have to go do a few things and eat before I go pick up my kids to take them home,” Albright said. “I’m a bus driver.”

Just before 11 a.m., ES&S released a statement that said “We are investigating the potential issue and working with elections officials to shorten wait times.”

At 2:39 p.m., ES&S released a follow-up statement:

“The issue in Johnson County, Indiana has been resolved, resulting in faster check-in times for voters. Earlier in the day, the poll book, which is used to check in voters but is not related to voting machines themselves, was running slowly. The poll book operation is now significantly improved. We apologize to voters and to elections officials in Johnson County, Indiana for longer wait times than expected, and we thank everyone for their patience.”

During a 3 p.m. briefing, Johnson County Election Board Chair, Phil Barrow announced that election workers around the county had implemented a change that allowed them to bypass ES&S servers in order to get voting systems back up to normal speed. Once ES&S resolved their issue, poll books were put back on their servers and continued running normally.

At one point, county officials weighed the possibility of seeking a court order to extend voting hours. But that move was not made because voting systems had returned to normal speed by early afternoon.

During the system slowdown, Misiniec said this wasn’t the first time ES&S systems had caused trouble.

“This issue actually happened in the spring,” she said. “They assured us it would be taken care of.”

Barnett says he doesn’t blame county election officials for the trouble, but he does urge them to take some kind of action to hold ES&S accountable.

“If they can’t get the job done, why are we using the same people,” Barnett said. “That’s two strikes. I don’t know if we should allow the third one.”

County election board member Cindy Rapp said board members were still gathering information about everything that happened on Election Day, and a post-election meeting could be scheduled in the next week or so. That meeting could determine any action of changes the board decides on.