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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