On election night earlier this month in Connecticut, the secretary of the state’s office unveiled a new system for towns to report vote totals. The “Election Management System” (EMS) is being applauded for delivering faster results to the public.
The process begins in advance of the election with the town clerk entering the names of each candidate on the ballot into the new online EMS. The towns' head moderator inputs the actual results after polls close.
“All you have to type in on election night are the numbers themselves,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “It then uploads automatically to our website and so you, you the public, get the results in real-time -- terrific improvement over how we were doing things before.”
It used to be that you’d either have to wait days in some cases for the votes to show up online or you had to head over to the polling station to see if the results were posted. That’s because vote totals would be faxed from each town hall to the state. Then those numbers would have to be re-entered by state officials into a database. Merrill said that led to errors in reporting.
And how about those fax machines? It couldn’t have been easy for them to work on receiving faxes when polls closed statewide at the same time.
“And so the machines would jam and it just wasn’t a great process. Of course, it was all not transparent to the public—only we in the office could see any of this,” Merrill said.
Mike Wyman, Tolland’s Democratic registrar of voters, said that things went so well that his crew was able to get some of the statistical analysis done early.
“We had no problem in entering the data and saving it by district,” Wyman said. “So all-in-all, it worked very well and we processed everything and were pretty much done by 9:30 [or 9:40 pm].”
The system isn’t perfect. Doug Hardy, the business manager of CT News Junkie, said his biggest gripe was that there wasn’t accompanying information to tell you how a race could be won.
In East Windsor’s municipal election to determine first selectmen for example, the top four vote-getters win. And there were eight names on the ballot. Hardy said you’d have to know what the rules were in a given town to know who won in that situation.
But Hardy, said the system is much-improved. His wife Christine Stuart is editor-in-chief and they stayed up until 2:30 am monitoring results. But that’s because he said they’re a small outfit that covers the state as a whole. And in years past, they might not have gone to bed at all.
“In the past, you’d just sort of throw your hands up and do the best you possibly can,” Hardy said. “This time around, it was refreshing.”
The results are unofficial until they’re certified by the state. This usually happens by Thanksgiving. Merrill said that EMS complaints were minimal—stuff like town moderators not remembering log-in information.
“But we had people on staff that were answering questions,” Merrill said. “By-and-large, people seemed very happy with it.”
Because of the amount of candidates on the ballot, Merrill said that she was most concerned about how the system would work in a municipal election season. She was happy with the results, and the fact that 141 towns reported that night.
Next year, her office will make it mandatory for each of the 169 towns in Connecticut that are going to the polls to report using EMS.