ELLSWORTH — Go online and you can buy a USB memory stick, or thumb drive, for 10 bucks or less. Even a premium, high-speed 128-gigabyte device can be had for less than $50 and delivered to the door overnight.
It appears, though, that a small, relatively inexpensive, device caused big problems for the Secretary of State’s Office.
Last week, Maine voters went to the polls to select gubernatorial and other candidates in Democratic and Republican primary elections and to decide whether to continue ranked choice voting (RCV) in national elections and party primaries.
As of Wednesday morning, Democrats were still waiting to find out who their candidate for governor would be come November and who would challenge Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the general election to represent Maine’s Second Congressional District.
On Tuesday, completion of the preliminary RCV tally that would answer those questions was delayed. Earlier in the day, technical problems forced Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to send staff detectives to retrieve paper ballots from two Hancock County municipalities, Ellsworth and Orland, as well as from Gray, Lewiston and Westbrook. The reason was that digital images of some scanned ballots could not be read by the tabulation computers at the Secretary of State’s Office, so the original paper ballots had to be recovered and rescanned.
The problem in Orland, Town Clerk Connie Brown said Wednesday morning was, “the same as everybody else’s. There was a glitch with the memory stick, the thumb drive.”
Ellsworth City Clerk Heidi Grindle said Dunlap’s office had asked for the ballots from the City’s Ward 3 polling place, which is located in the gym at the Maine Coast Baptist Church on Route 1A. Ward 3 covers north Ellsworth, “around the lakes, part of Red Bridge Road, Winkumpaugh Road,” Grindle said.
As in Orland and elsewhere, the problem in Ward 3 appears to have been a memory stick that did not record images of the paper ballots correctly.
“We did get results,” Grindle said, “but no visual image.” There were no problems with the memory devices used in the city’s other three wards.
Whatever caused the technological glitch that has delayed the vote count, it almost certainly was not the city’s fault. All the memory sticks used in the voting process are programmed by the Secretary of State’s Office then delivered to the municipalities.
“It’s technology,” Grindle said. “I feel bad about holding up the process. That’s why we have paper ballots.”
As troublesome as this election was for Ellsworth, it was also expensive.
While the city did not have to pay for the courier service that collected the memory sticks after the election and delivered them to Augusta, Ellsworth did have to pay nearly $9,000 to rent the four DS200 voting machines used for the RCV ballots from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software. Those machines were used in addition to the voting machines provided by the state at no cost to the city for municipal and non-RCV elections.
“We had to use two machines side by side,” Grindle said.
According to Grindle, “the machines and associated pieces (of equipment) cost the city $7,560 to rent for a year.” In addition, shipping cost “a little over $200 for each machine,” but ES&S allowed the city to split the unbudgeted cost into two payments in two fiscal years.
Ellsworth will hold on to the machines so they can be used again in November without incurring additional shipping costs.