On Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Dallas County General Election Review Commission board met at the Dallas County Election’s office in Adel to review the report for the number of absentee votes not transferred into the totals group report. The meeting also included Elections Director, Dawn Williams, and Christy Wilson, RBM Software Consultant Software, and Jared Highley, Real Estate Administrator, took the minutes from the meeting.
Previously, the Auditor and Commissioner of Elections requested to have the follow individuals take part in the General Election Review Commission: Michael Cooper, Democrat from the Special Precinct Board, Dawn Van Buren, Republican from the Special Precinct Board, John Strathman, Representative from the Republican Party, and Art Behn, Representative from the Democratic Party.
Julie Helm, Dallas County Auditor, was not the Auditor during the 2016 election cycle, but she expresses sorrow for the error and is working to build steps to mend the process.
“I am still deeply, deeply sorry that this mistake happened,” Helm said. “Now that I am Auditor, I want to start the correction process right, so that’s why I asked the Board of Supervisors to convene our General Review Commission here.”
After approached by the Secretary of State about the difference in number of votes compared to those who received voting credit on Feb. 1, Kim Owen, Dallas County Elections Deputy wrote to Elections Director, Dawn Williams.
Owen described the process in detail in her letter:
“Two separate reporting categories were created in our reporting software. One that keeps absentee ballots separate and one that contains overall totals. The totals category contains election day precinct results and absentee results. Precinct ballots were tabulated at the precinct, delivered on transfer media and uploaded into totals group in the reporting software. Absentee ballots were counted in batches. When all absentee ballots were counted, the batches were selected and uploaded into the reporting software for total absentee ballot results. The number of ballots counted in the absentee ballot run is correct. Precinct results were loaded into the totals group of the reporting software, the absentee batches were moved into the totals group.
During this process, due to human error, not all absentee batches were transferred into the total group. This resulted in 5,842 ballots not being added to the totals group report.”
William’s office was able to catch the error due to the differences in votes and voter history.
“Dallas County responded immediately, Kim and I had our first conversation after three in the afternoon and a written explanation in those results, the identification of the problem was in my inbox at 8 the next morning,” Williams said.
After reviewing the results, William’s office understands the human error.
“Dallas County has been professional through it in working with us,” Williams said. “Every decision we’ve had has centered around, ‘I want to be transparent,’ that what happened is explained and transparent with the results. We have enough information to be satisfied that it’s a human error.”
During the meeting, the General Election Review Commission was able to take a tour of the machines and view the equipment that was used during the 2016 elections.
RBM Software Consultant, Christy Wilson, walked the commission members through the process.
The error occurred due to not selecting all absentee batches, which later left votes behind.
“I just think it was a simple error,” Wilson said. “More than likely, my guess is that someone just clicked on this one [file at the top of page] and probably clicked ‘control,’ scrolled down to the bottom [of the page] and then ‘clicked,’ thinking that would highlight all of them [absentee batches].”
Wilson said the technology company is in the works of updating their system with a potential “confirmation” page to prevent this situation from happening in the future.
The “confirmation” pop-up would allow the user to view the number selected, along with the total number available before sending the files over. Wilson said the entire process of a system change could take one to two years.
The commission has also suggested another set of eyes to double-check over the votes, making it easier to catch mistakes.
Once the machines were reviewed, commission members were given a packet indicating three separate reports: the election summary report used on Nov. 14, 2016, the election summary report that contained the missing batches, and the final, overall total of the election summary report found in 2017.
Outside of the election reports, “November 8, 2016 General Election Comparison” documents were given, which contained the reported result in 2016, the updated result in 2017, and total difference in votes between the two.
With elections coming up this May, Helm wants to reiterate that all information will be checked precisely.
“In the meantime, our humans need to work together to become better all around,” Helm said.“We want to make sure our “I’s” are dotted and our “T’s” are crossed.”
In order to prevent this from happening in the future, William’s office gave a statement ensuring this incident won’t happen again: “While the audit provisions in the Integrity Act are key to preventing a problem like this from reoccurring, we are also developing additional checks and balances for counties as they report election results and will conduct statewide county level educational sessions to ensure Iowa’s election reporting remains accurate.”
Helm will give the materials from Wednesday’s meeting to the Board of Supervisors. The meeting will be discussed with the board on Tuesday, Feb. 28.