Cronin: Changes coming after DuPage election commission's 'inept' performance

DuPage election commission officials must publicly explain their "totally inept" performance on election night when technical problems prevented them from releasing final voting results until roughly eight hours after the polls closed, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said Wednesday.

Cronin said he was "frustrated," "confused" and ultimately "furious" when workers at all the county's polling places were unable to get results from optical scan voting machines, which are used to read paper ballots.

Bipartisan teams of judges had to physically bring 268 of the machines to the election commission office in Wheaton to tabulate the results. Vote totals from the first precincts weren't reported until nearly 10 p.m. - a full three hours after the polls closed - and the final votes weren't counted until around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

"Even with the best of plans, things can fail you; technology can fail," Cronin said. "The problem I have is how they responded to it. It was totally inept."

Cronin said he wants commission officials to attend next week's county board meeting to answer questions about what happened.

"We will make an effort to discover all the facts," Cronin said, but someone must be held responsible.

"I promise you, there's going to be changes," he said. "I am done with this."

Cronin said he also will continue pushing for a state law change to merge the election commission with the county clerk's office. He has supported that concept for years, but the legislature has been reluctant to give the county permission to do it.

"I look forward to the day the election commission is under the auspices of the clerk's office," Cronin said. "There will be accountability, better responsiveness and better professionalism - I am certain of that."

On Wednesday, election commission officials said the problem with the optical scan voting machines was caused by "ender cards"- similar to paper ballots - that are needed to close the machines and tabulate results.

It turns out the ender cards the commission purchased from Liberty Systems couldn't be run through the machines.

"The paper stock used by the vendor for this election was not to specification and didn't fit through the scanner," said Joseph Sobecki, the commission's executive director. "That resulted in none of the locations being able to close the optical scan."

The problem didn't affect touch-screen voting machines, but most DuPage voters use optical scan paper ballots.

Once the problem was discovered, Sobecki said officials decided to bring the optical scan voting machines from every polling place to Wheaton so they could go through the closing procedure.

Cronin blasted that decision.

"If the cards fail, you should have a system in place to respond to that," he said. "This notion that you are going to physically transport every one of these machines from all of the polling places and have them wait in line out in the driveways of the county complex ... is just stunning to me in its level of incompetence."

Sobecki said the first machines arrived around 8:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, Cronin said he was getting calls from numerous campaigns wondering where their votes were.

"I understand there was never a question of the accuracy of the tabulation," Cronin said. "But when you're so slow and so behind every other county in the state, it opens up questions about your competency. If you can't do the job in a timely manner, you're not doing your job."

Now that the election is over, Sobecki said the commission is doing its own investigation.

"We would have been on track had it not been for this issue," he said. "It's something we'll make sure to address. I don't believe this will be an issue going forward."

Still, county board member Jim Zay said someone at the election commission should be held accountable.

"The election commission on election night should not be the story," Zay said. "The story should be those candidates running for office. It shouldn't be the inefficiency and the screw-ups of the DuPage election commission."

The commission said "rigorous" testing was done before the election, but Zay said he doesn't believe it.

"If they tested it, it would have worked," he said.

"The problem is they have their own separate board," Zay said, referring to the three-person panel that oversees the commission. "Maybe that board needs to go."

The three members of the bipartisan DuPage Board of Election Commissioners are appointed by Cronin. Republicans hold two of the three seats.

Cronin acknowledged that election commissioners should bear responsibility.

"I think there is a enough blame to go around over there," he said. "The whole operation needs to be re-examined from top to bottom as we dissolve it."

DuPage County has trouble counting ballots after problems with voting machines

James Zay
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