Too much traffic delayed counts

State election officials say they still are investigating why computer problems delayed the release of online vote totals for up to 90 minutes the night of the Aug. 17 primary election.

But assistant state elections director Shane Hamlin said with certainty Tuesday that the problems, which drew few public complaints, won’t resurface for the Nov. 2 election.

“It’s too early to give a complete, detailed postmortem, but we know it was a combination of about four things,” Hamlin said. “There is no single smoking gun.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed oversees elections, and his agency operates the Washington Election Information System, which receives and displays vote results from all 39 counties, then makes them available for viewing online. But instead of displaying results instantly, the system was overwhelmed by the traffic from voters checking results and from the heavy uploading of information from counties, Hamlin said.

At the same time, some counties were uploading the names and vote results for more than 13,000 precinct committee officers for the first time into the state system, state elections director Nick Handy said on election night.

The extra loads paralyzed the system and made it impossible for election workers in Thurston County and other sites to immediately feed in their results. After the system got bottled up, the technical team at the state elections division conferred with experts at Microsoft, whose firm had provided the software platform and helped build the vote-reporting system, according to Hamlin.

Statewide voter turnout was more than 40 percent and could go as high as 41 percent as votes are counted this week, according to Brian Zylstra, a spokesman for the secretary of state. He described that as a “modern record” for a nonpresidential primary in an even-numbered year. In Thurston County, turnout was 41.7 percent as of Tuesday.

Hamlin described the outages on the site as intermittent, lasting perhaps 90 minutes, and avoidable. “It is preventable and correctable,” he said.

Hamlin also said the precinct officer elections are done and won’t be a factor in November.

Even so, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman is getting a Plan B ready for the Nov. 2 election. Wyman said Tuesday that she plans to have her county results posted directly to the thurstonvotes.org site in a plain format before sending them to the state.

Once that is done, Wyman said, her office will upload results to the state elections system, which automatically adds the Thurston votes to the statewide tallies in state and regional races.

Wyman said her staff needed about an hour and a half to upload data that it had hoped to post shortly after the votes were counted after 8 p.m.

Hamlin said he was a little surprised not to have heard more complaints about the system.

“We were disappointed in ourselves and concerned Tuesday night,” he said.