Pickaway County unofficial election results are inaccurate; include pre-election test vote data

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The Pickaway County Board of Elections has announced that the unofficial results it released for the March 19 primary election are inaccurate, but the board states that the discrepancy “does not change the unofficial outcome of any contests.”

According to a letter the board sent to candidates and posted to the board’s website, the unofficial results released on election night include higher absentee vote totals than were actually cast for all candidates because the results erroneously include pre-election vote testing numbers.

The board said the error occurred after the absentee vote results were generated at 7:32 p.m., two minutes after the polls closed on primary night. A USB “flash drive” was inserted into a tabulation computer so it could be cleared for use later in the evening, the board said.

“Unfortunately, this USB drive contained ‘test data’ used during the pre-election logic and accuracy testing process,” the board said. As a result, those pre-election test vote results were imported by the tabulation program on election night before the drive was cleared, and those test votes were added into the next unofficial results released by the board at 7:58 p.m. on election night, the board said.

The elections board did not disclose in the letter how it initially discovered the mistake, or whether the person or persons who inserted the USB containing pre-election vote testing data into a tabulation computer, erroneously uploading those test voters into the unofficial count, will face any disciplinary action.

“The Pickaway County Board of Elections takes very seriously the responsibility of providing accurate vote counts as we strive to build and maintain a high level of trust with our community and its leaders,” the board’s letter about the situation begins.

“It is therefore extremely difficult that we must inform you of a discrepancy in the unofficial election results which added more mail absentee vote totals than were cast for all candidates. Due to this discrepancy, all contests will see a change in totals when the official election results are certified, but this does not change the unofficial outcome of any contests,” the letter states.

Under an Ohio Secretary of State directive issued last year, Pickaway County Board of Elections “members and employees are prohibited from disclosing partial or final results of any contest in the election between the completion of the Unofficial Canvass (released on election night) and the certification of official results.

“Therefore, our office is not legally permitted to disclose the test deck vote pattern or any adjusted totals or reports until the official certification of results, scheduled for Friday, March 29th, 2024, at 3 p.m.”

The elections board noted that between the unofficial results released on election night and official certification, the board reconciles election day votes, awaits valid absentee mail ballots that could have arrived by Saturday’s mail and still be counted, and reviews provisional ballots filed by voters whose eligibility to vote was in question Tuesday for reasons such as a voter changing their address and not updating that information with the county board of elections. Those ballots are cast “provisionally” until election officials can verify the voter’s eligibility to vote in the particular precinct at that election. Once determined to be eligible to vote, that voter’s provisional ballot is counted.

Because of these variables, the board of elections said it cannot provide a specific number of votes each candidate received to determine outcomes until the official certification is complete.

However, because the board would presumably know what numbers were used in pre-election testing, it will be able to remove those votes from the unofficial totals as part of the final vote certification. The board encouraged people with questions or concerns to reach out with any questions or concerns, but reminded in the letter that it is prohibited from discussing certain information at this time until the official vote is certified.

“… We are unable to provide certain details regarding the election day, absentee, and provisional audits and reviews of ballots that are underway,” the board said.

“It is our desire to build and maintain your trust and are therefore developing a process to ensure that this cannot happen again,” the board said.