NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

The Washington Secretary of State’s official results website had a bad election night

Last night was pret­ty rough for results.vote.wa.gov, the offi­cial elec­tion results web­site main­tained by the Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State’s office.

With two hot-but­ton, con­tro­ver­sial mea­sures on the statewide bal­lot, a lot of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans were inter­est­ed in the ear­ly returns for Ini­tia­tive 976 and Ini­tia­tive 1000, con­cern­ing trans­porta­tion fund­ing and affir­ma­tive action, respec­tive­ly.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the site was mal­func­tion­ing for much of the evening. It dis­played inac­cu­rate per­cent­ages for some coun­ties and no data at all for oth­ers, forc­ing reporters, activists, and observers to go direct­ly to coun­ty elec­tion web­sites to obtain data from PDFs or text files. This sit­u­a­tion per­sist­ed for hours.

By 1 AM this morn­ing, the prob­lems (or at least most of them) appeared to have been qui­et­ly resolved with­out an apol­o­gy or even a com­ment from Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman’s office. The coun­ty-by-coun­ty maps of the two statewide bal­lot mea­sures are now show­ing results data from all thir­ty-nine coun­ties, and the per­cent­ages appear to cor­re­spond to the actu­al vote totals.

NPI’s archiv­ing tools saved copies of the site while the errors were live.

As you can see from this screen­shot, tak­en from a copy of the site made at 8:05 PM, the per­cent­ages for Ini­tia­tive 976 in Pacif­ic Coun­ty are incor­rect.

The Yes vote was shown as 22.73% and the No vote as 12.42%. The per­cent­ages should have read 64.66% for the yes side and 35.34% for the no side.

Errors on results.vote.wa.gov

This image shows the I‑976 coun­ty-by-coun­ty results map as it appeared at 8:05 PM.

An hour lat­er, the per­cent­ages were still wrong.

Here’s a screen­shot tak­en from a copy of the results web­site made at 9:05 PM:

Errors on results.vote.wa.gov

This image shows the I‑976 coun­ty-by-coun­ty results map as it appeared at 9:05 PM.

The yes vote in Pacif­ic Coun­ty on I‑976 by this point was being shown as 0.33% and the no vote as 0.18%… still incor­rect fig­ures. Again, the per­cent­ages should have read 64.66% for the yes side and 35.34% for the no side.

You can also see from that screen­shot that data from a num­ber of coun­ties is miss­ing. For exam­ple, by that point in the evening, Sno­homish Coun­ty had pub­lished its ini­tial returns, but they were not being aggre­gat­ed. That caused the topline fig­ures for the bal­lot mea­sures to unnec­es­sar­i­ly out of date and skewed.

In addi­tion, the time­stamp for the state as a whole read “Last updat­ed on 11/06/2019 5:00 PM”. As in today at 5 PM, about twen­ty hours in the future!

By 10:05 PM, Sno­homish’s ini­tial returns had been aggre­gat­ed in, but data from Clal­lam, Chelan, Okanogan, Lin­coln, and Franklin coun­ties had not been.

By mid­night, only Franklin’s data had been incor­po­rat­ed.

Errors on results.vote.wa.gov

This image shows the I‑976 coun­ty-by-coun­ty results map as it appeared at 11:55 PM.

It was not until after mid­night that data from Clal­lam, Chelan, Okanogan, and Lin­coln coun­ties was final­ly incor­po­rat­ed into the results web­site — more than four hours after the first results had been post­ed for pub­lic con­sump­tion.

This is not the first time that results.vote.wa.gov has suf­fered from prob­lems and mishaps. But it needs to be the last. How can we have con­fi­dence in the data that the Sec­re­tary of State is pub­lish­ing if that data is incom­plete and error-rid­den?

The data export func­tion­al­i­ty on results.vote.wa.gov also suf­fers from sev­er­al issues, name­ly a fail­ure to adhere to con­sis­tent stan­dards for the pre­sen­ta­tion of data. Juris­dic­tion names, can­di­date names, and con­test names do not fol­low a stan­dard for­mat, sig­nif­i­cant­ly com­pli­cat­ing poten­tial reuses of the data.

At NPI, we use the data export func­tion­al­i­ty on results.wa.gov to pow­er Pacif­ic NW Por­tal’s elec­tions engine. To make the engine go, NPI’s Oper­a­tions Direc­tor and chief tech­nol­o­gist Ren­nie Sawade rou­tine­ly has to write spe­cial code to com­pen­sate for all the prob­lems in the XML pub­lished by the Sec­re­tary of State.

If the source data was clean, con­sis­tent XML, that would­n’t be nec­es­sary.

Incum­bent Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman prides her­self on her elec­tions admin­is­tra­tion exper­tise, so hope­ful­ly she’s just as appalled about the prob­lems that I’ve described in this post as we are.

Wyman needs to act imme­di­ate­ly to rec­ti­fy these issues so that Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion results web­site isn’t a mal­func­tion­ing embar­rass­ment next year.

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One Comment

  1. Excel­lent post. I appre­ci­ate your cov­er­age. Thanks and best of luck.

    # by Donnell Bates :: November 20th, 2019 at 8:04 AM