Malfunction in voting machine statewide creates recounts across Iowa

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 8:30 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa Secretary of State’s office learned multiple counties saw an error with a voting machine on election day, according to an email from our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received.

The error, which affected less than 1% of ballots in Sioux County, created the recommendation for a recount in multiple counties during a time of increased concern over election security.

According to an email from the Secretary of State’s Legal Counsel, a paper jam created a discrepancy between the displayed number of ballots in an election machine and the number of people who voted in a percent.

“The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office has learned that some counties are experiencing paper jams when voters are inserting their ballot into the tabulator,” she wrote. “In some instances, this causes the “ballots cast” number on the tabulator to increase by one extra vote, which leads to the appearance that more ballots were cast than voters who signed a Declaration of Eligibility.”

Widen also wrote the Secretary of State’s Office will host a meeting online to discuss an administrative recount, which happens when the voting equipment used in an election malfunctioned or that programming errors may have affected the outcome of the election according to Iowa law.

Election officials have talked about the issue on a message board website similar to Slack called Basecamp. An email our i9 Investigative Team received shows one member on the site created a survey, which asked if a county had an issue and planned to have an administrative recount.

Ryan Dokter (R), who is the Sioux County Auditor, said in a press release he is requesting an administrative recount after fewer than 10 of 4,740 ballots in Sioux County were affected by the error. He said in the release his office is working with the Secretary of State’s Office and the machine vendor to resolve the problem.

The machine vendor for the county is a Missouri-based company called Henry M. Adkins & Son Inc. to resolve the problem. The company sells multiple Unisyn ballot readers and scanners, which are used in 69 counties according to the company’s website.

Our i9 Team doesn’t know how many counties are experiencing the issue. Our i9 Team reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office since Friday and hasn’t heard back by publication.

Dustin Vanderburg, who is the vice president for Henry M. Adkins & Son Inc, said Unisyn is working on finding the root cause for the error and apologized to multiple county auditors in an email our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team obtained. He said the company is working on a plan for the Midterm elections in November.

“We are working closely with Unisyn during this process so that a plan is in place to prevent this issue from occurring again in November,” Vanderburg wrote. “As details come forward we will keep everybody informed of the plan for November.”

In an email, he said the current theory is the error happened specifically on older machines and denied using the malfunction as a way to pressure counties to buy new equipment.

“We fully intend to address this situation and continue to maintain your current voting equipment into the foreseeable future,” Vanderburg said. “We value each and every one of you and would never jeopardize our relationship in that manner.”

Kevin Dragotto (D), who is the auditor in Dubuque County Auditor, said 19 ballots were affected by the issue in his county where he uses the Unisyn OVO. He said he plans to use the same machines for the midterm elections with an older software version than what was used in the primary.

“I don’t know if you are a computer guy at all,” Dragotto said. But, if you have a problem with a new release. Step 1, is you take it back to the release before that when you know you didn’t have any problems.”

He said the issue won’t affect any race in his county or statewide race. Regardless, Dragotto is spending a few hundred dollars conducting an administrative recount to ensure those results are 100% correct. He said he hopes this shows people Iowa’s elections are resilient even if the equipment doesn’t work

“We continue to test and show that things will happen, bumps in the road will come along, but we have systems in place,” Dragotto said. “And the Secretary of State has been fantastic, you know, guiding us through this process thus far.”

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