This story was updated at 10:28 a.m. to include a statement by the Johnson County Election Office and updated at 1:58 p.m. to include comments from the election machines' vendor.
For the second time in two years, election night tabulation problems in Johnson County led to delays in voting results, leaving the outcomes of key races in limbo.
The problems occurred despite — or possibly because of — the county’s $10.5 million acquisition of new voting machines with paper ballots to replace its 15-year-old machines.
Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told KCUR 89.3 that technicians from the machines’ manufacturer were brought in to work on the problems, “but unfortunately it has not functioned as it was reported that it should.”
“It's been slow and tedious,” Metsker said. “We will get to the bottom of that. We trust them and we're confident that this will be an excellent system once we get these bugs worked out.”
In 2016, Johnson County was the last county in the state to report its election totals. Metsker attributed the delay then to a software glitch in the tabulation software as well as a “huge influx” of advance mail ballots and voters registering for the first time or changing their registration.
The county’s 2016 vote totals didn’t get reported until about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the day after the election.
This time around, Metsker said, the problems revolved around the uploading of data into the reporting software, which generates reports of the results.
In a statement released around 10 a.m. today, the Johnson County Election Office said that unofficial results were posted on its website shortly before 8 a.m.
"We understand that the delay was frustrating to our community and agree that such delays are unacceptable," the statement read. "Our first priority was reporting unofficial final results to our voters. We are working with the vendor to identify the cause of the delay, resolve the issue, and ensure the problem does not happen again."
The vendor, Election Systems & Software, released a statement Wednesday afternoon attributing the delay in voting results to "slow processing of the election media on encrypted thumb drives."
"Despite slower than normal processing," it said, "the reporting is now complete, and the accuracy of the results was never in question."
The company apologized for the slower than normal results and it was performing a forensic analysis "to identify the root cause of the slow results reporting."
The snafus last night once again left the county, the state’s most populous, the last to tally its totals. That left the outcomes of the Republican primary for governor and the Democratic primary for the 3rd District congressional race up in the air until Wednesday morning.
In addition to tabulation problems, Metsker said turnout was unusually high for an August primary.
“So we had to make the call on what size this election would be back in May,” Metsker said. “That was even before the filing deadline of the candidates, and we projected to a capacity of 30 percent.
“You can see by the outcome that we did have somewhere in excess of 30 percent turnout and so there were some performance issues in terms of speed of service, uh, because we, we simply needed to have more capacity, meaning more machines and more election workers. That can be remedied by recruiting more workers and deploying more machines, but we simply did not expect to have this high turnout that we experienced.”
Metsker said the new machines performed very well in advance voting, “and everyone was raving about having the paper trail and how easy they were to use. … And then, of course, when we were doing the tabulation to see the system very, very slow, (we) were not expecting that. It was very, very disappointing.”
Metsker said he was confident the vendor would find out what went wrong, rectify it “and give us the surety that it will never happen again. ”
“They are, of course, as bothered as anyone because they see their product not performing as expected,” Metsker said.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies
Nick Telep is KCUR’s morning news intern. He can be reached on Twitter @ndtelep.