Ballot chain of custody questions in Cook County primary

To continue our collection of stories relating to the Illinois primary yesterday, this morning there are a number of new stories that we’ll keep following.

One of the more interesting stories concerns questions about the chain of custody of ballots in Cook County, questions being raised by candidates in a close race in Cook County, reported by Chicago’s NBC5.

Not surprisingly, given that Cook County was implementing new voting technologies and new procedures to use those technologies, it seems that the election night counting process was slower than usual, despite what seems to be a relatively low voter turnout rate.

The issue seems to revolve around three problems, according to the NBC5 story:

… there were three separate problems, referred to as “election administration processes” by Neal. They are 1) paper ballots that were kicked out by scanners and, hence, not counted, 2) computer drives that held counted ballots but were not able to transmit the votes electronically, 3) flash drives that were not able to transmit from touchscreen voting machines.

Furthermore, the reporter

reported that moving trucks were arriving at election headquarters with uncounted ballots and scanners after midnight. He said there was no indication that the contents of those trucks were under any kind of guard, although the trucks were being met by election officials.

Election officials asserted that the chain of custody was protected, and that there were observers who were following the ballots at each step of the process.

In the end, this is an interesting example of how election officials do need to develop end-to-end plans to protect the security of ballots and all election materials, and to insure that those plans are followed to the letter. A key part of planning needs to be contingency plans, plans for when things go wrong, even minor issues like the three process problems that may have arisen in some Cook County precincts. Dealing with those procedural problems, and insuring that there is a clear chain of custody that can document the problems and steps to resolve them, is critical for confidence in the process and for insuring that elections can be accurately audited.

UPDATE: There is also a story in the Chicago Tribune that discusses the chain of custody issue. Here’s more from that story:

Cook County Clerk David Orr said remote transmission of results had failed in “dozens” of polling places, slowing results. He said judges were sending some data cards downtown by cab for counting, after they were unable to merge and transmit results from the new touch-screen and optical scanning systems.

And in another precinct mentioned in the story, “The precinct’s 61 Democratic paper ballots were dropped in a lock box, Masak said, and judges were told to drive them downtown.”