As election results trickled into the WNDU-TV newsroom Tuesday night, we couldn't help but notice one county lagging far behind. As of 10 p.m., Berrien County was only reporting 20 percent of its precincts. By sunrise Wednesday, that number had barely made it to 50 percent. The reason for the delay, the clerk’s offices’ state-of-the-art election computer system crashed, on the worst night possible.
"We started receiving early results a little after 8 p.m. and by 9:30 p.m., we had 13 precincts in electronically and then the screen on the computer just started to flicker and then it decided to die,” Berrien County Clerk Louise Stine said.
IT technicians ran diagnostic tests on the troubled terminal most of Wednesday, but had yet to identify the issue by close of business. Cynics can't cite the county for owning an antiquated system, as the terminal was only two-years-old.
“This is too difficult on everybody, it's difficult on the candidates, it's difficult on the public who are interested in the races and propositions, obviously the media is hanging on our getting results done, and the state is too,” Stine added.
Traditional accounting calculators replaced 21st Century technology as a team of seven women tabulated tens of thousands of ballots. The female task force was full of caffeine, but running low on patience.
"I have staff members who’ve been here since 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. We have pulled in people from other departments who have graciously come in to help us get this paperwork processed so we can get this data entry completed,” Stine remarked.
The task was tedious and old school. After all, it was 1988 during the George H.W. Bush presidential election, when Berrien County last had to hand-count every single ballot.
"We had to manually enter data for all those precincts, for every office, every candidate, and every proposal on the ballot. We can't go home until we have county-wide results to send to the state offices in Lansing,” Stine commented.
That completion threshold came at 2 p.m. Wednesday; 18 hours after Michigan polls first closed, 28 hours after staff at the Berrien County clerk’s office first reported to work Tuesday morning.
"You have to roll with the punches and so we had to start doing things manually, you just don't have a choice. But this can't happen again, there's got to be a way to have another system to back this up,” Stine concluded.
Berrien County has already begun looking at a second computer system, which would act as a emergency generator for future elections.