DuPage County officials: Faulty cards not tested before election night

DuPage election officials failed to test the ballot-like cards needed to close the county's optical scan voting machines to ensure they would work during the March 20 primary, officials admitted Tuesday.

Officials said the polls already had closed when they discovered the so-called "ender cards" were too thick to run through the voting machines that read paper ballots.

The result was a nightmare election night in which it took the election commission more than eight hours to count the ballots, leaving some candidates uncertain about the final results into the wee hours and causing county officials widespread embarrassment.

While the election commission tested ballots before the election, officials said, the faulty ender cards were part of a generic election supply kit that wasn't tested.

"They weren't under the same testing as the ballots," said Joseph Sobecki, executive director of the election commission.

He said the commission got the kits six days before the election. Ender cards are standard and used to send a simple command to the optical scan machines to end voting and print results.

"This is something that in the 17 years we've been using it, we haven't had to test this because it's a standard universal piece of paper," Sobecki said during a Tuesday presentation for the county board.

He assured the board that the ender cards will be tested in the future.

"Something as simple as a piece of paper that's generic to vendor, jurisdiction, polling place, (and) election had the ability to make the judges unable to close the polls," Sobecki said. "So this will have to be tested moving forward."

Sobecki was on the hot seat Tuesday because it's the third consecutive time the commission has stumbled in its handling of election results.

This time, bipartisan teams of judges had to physically bring 268 of the voting 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. the next day.

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

On Tuesday, county board members blasted the commission for not testing the ender cards.

"The notion that we would get these kits (and) deploy them to the field with nobody having done a final run-through of at least one kit to make sure everything worked is shocking to me," board member Robert Larsen said. "I can't imagine doing that in those circumstances, knowing what's at stake."

Board member James Healy suggested mock elections be held in the future to ensure everything is runs smoothly.

"I hope that from now on, every single piece of paper in the box will be tested," he said.

Others noted that it's the third election cycle where the commission has had problems.

"This was such an important election ..." board member Don Puchalski said. "We should have done better than this. We always say how DuPage is cutting edge. Obviously, this is an issue with us."

The commission purchased the faulty ender cards from Liberty Systems, which hired another company to do the printing.

Sobecki said the commission provided a sample ender card to the vendor. Still, the ender cards in the election supply kits were much thicker than the sample.

He declined to comment on what caused the printing error.

"We do have an answer, but I'm unable to go into details," said Sobecki, adding the commission is exploring options for how it will respond to the mistake.

Some county board members said the commission should terminate its contract with Liberty Systems. That decision, however, would need to be made by the bipartisan three-person board that oversees the commission.

That soon could change.

County board Chairman Dan Cronin is 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.

"In my mind, all of this underscores the need for legislation to be passed by the General Assembly that would fold the duties of the election commission into the clerk's office," Cronin said.

He's planning to be in Springfield on April 11 to testify in support of the proposal.

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  County Board members James Healy, left, and James Zay ask about a printing error that prevented the county from posting election results in a timely manner. Bev Horne/
  Joe Sobecki, executive director of the DuPage Election Commission, speaks to the DuPage County Board on Tuesday as board Chairman Dan Cronin, far right, and County Clerk Paul Hinds look on. Cronin is pushing a proposal to dissolve the election commission and give its responsibilities to the county clerk's office. Bev Horne/
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