CHARLOTTE, N.C. You had one job, state board of elections website.
On Tuesday night as returns were coming in from North Carolina's primary election, the state's website was malfunctioning. At one point, the number of precincts didn't match the number of votes that had actually been counted. We saw the number of votes actually go down at another point. And at the end of the evening, the number of precincts went away for individual races, making it hard or impossible to tell if all of the votes had been counted. So what happened?
This is no one s problem but ours, says Joshua Lawson, a spokesman with the North Carolina Board of Elections.
County boards of elections count ballots and send that data to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh, which then uses software to display results in real-time on its website. Lawson says the state had been using display software from a company in Tampa called SOE, beginning in 2007. In spring of 2013, the board began talking with SOE about a new contract, but couldn't reach an agreement, and in November, the contract lapsed. The state board reverted back to using an in-house system it had in place before 2007, and tried to upfit it to make it work for this year's election.
Lawson says the state will continue to work on its software, and plans on having more functionality ready for November s general election, including maps, information on votes cast at the precinct level and the types of votes cast (absentee, early and in-person). The raw data coming in was correct, and county boards were doing everything right, but the problems were display problems at the state level -- ones that were frustrating to people looking for results. We take full ownership of the fact that they did not get that data last night, says Lawson.The board had paid SOE $6.8 million over the course of the contract, and was paying out $400,000 a year in maintenance fees alone, which accounted for a tenth of the board s $4 million yearly budget. Lawson says contract talks broke down because both sides couldn t see eye-to-eye over upfront payments, the costs, and the unbundling of pieces of SOE software that the state was paying for but not using.
Another issue, however, was a $1 million payment to SOE in 2011 for a software application that would allow campaigns and political action committees to submit finance reports online. The software, which was an effort to reduce the amount of clerical work at the board of elections office, was never delivered, according to the state. Lawson said state law actually prohibits the board for paying for such software up front (a move that s been scrutinized by state auditors), and the deal with SOE didn't include a timeline for when the work would be completed.
The state says it s referred the case to the attorney general. SOE marketing manager Maureen Szlemp says that her company did deliver part of the campaign finance software, a document viewer, to the state. Szlemp says discussions on a new contract are ongoing.
Lawson says the state has no plans to bid the website work out, since the cost of keeping the work in-house are about $40,000 a year, one-tenth of the price it was paying SOE. Financially, this was the right call, he says. But as you can see, it was a bumpy ride last night.