DuPage Election Commission boss: We failed the public

  • Cathy Ficker Terrill

    Cathy Ficker Terrill

  • Joe Sobecki, executive director of the DuPage Election Commission, appeared before the DuPage County Board last week to explain what went wrong on election night when it took the county more than eight hours to count primary ballots.

      Joe Sobecki, executive director of the DuPage Election Commission, appeared before the DuPage County Board last week to explain what went wrong on election night when it took the county more than eight hours to count primary ballots. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/4/2018 7:17 PM

The leader of the board that oversees the DuPage Election Commission offered to resign after the blunder that delayed the release of election results for hours during last month's primary.

Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the election commission board, said Wednesday a vendor "made a terrible mistake" when it provided faulty ballot-like cards needed to close DuPage's optical scan voting machines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After the polls closed on March 20, election officials discovered the so-called "ender cards" were too thick to run through the voting machines that read paper ballots.

The result was a nightmare 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 commission is considering possible legal action against the vendor, Ficker Terrill said she takes personal responsibility for what happened.

"The election commission failed the public," Ficker Terrill said. "I take ownership of that. I willingly accept the blame for the error."

She said she offered her resignation to the man who appointed her to the three-person panel, county board Chairman Dan Cronin. So far, Cronin hasn't responded.

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Ficker Terrill also read a formal apology during an election commission meeting on Tuesday.

"The election commission believes the voters, the judges, the candidates and the elected officials all deserved an apology for the delay in the reporting of the results," Ficker Terrill said. "There was a serious technical flaw with the equipment provided by the vendor. As a result, the voters did not have access to the results in a timely manner. And for that, we humbly apologize."

Meanwhile, Cronin on Wednesday released a statement saying he's continuing to gather information.

"Right now, our focus is on certifying the election result by the April 9 deadline," Cronin said. "After that, we will have more to say about the steps to be taken moving forward."

Ficker Terrill said she was shocked to learn that faulty ender cards were provided in the generic election supply kits the commission bought from Liberty Systems.

Ender cards are standard and used to send a simple command to the optical scan machines to end voting and print results. The commission has never had a problem with the ender cards it purchased for previous elections.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The specs haven't changed," Ficker Terrill said. "It's just that this particular vendor -- unbeknown to us -- did not follow the specs."

Because the faulty cards were useless, 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.

Last week, county board members blasted the commission for not testing the ender cards before the election.

Ficker Terrill said the cards will be tested in the future. She said the commission also needs to find a solution to another problem.

"The election commission needs a better emergency communication system," she said, because it had no way of dealing with the flood of calls it received from all the polling places on election night.

She said the commission received a written explanation from Liberty Systems concerning the error, but the details of that correspondence haven't been released.

The company is under contract to produce ender cards for DuPage for the November election.

"The board is very concerned about their ability to meet the specs of future contracts," Ficker Terrill said. "It's fair to say some action will be taken."

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