Ballot go out on time, but ‘hicccup’ cause some voters to get wrong one

Using a computer, Sandy Neil, Sanpete County clerk, demonstrates how she and her staff can visually compare the signature on file in the computer with the signature on the tear-off strip. Hand validating in this way ensure that despite any small differences in a voter’s handwriting, his or her signature can almost always be verified, although a phone call to the voter is sometimes required to be sure.


Ballot go out on time, but ‘hicccup’

cause some voters to get wrong one


By Doug Lowe 

Staff writer



MANTI – Blame it on “some hiccups.” That is what, SeaChange, the company responsible for printing, addressing and bar coding Sanpete County’s ballots, told county clerk Sandy Neil to explain the handful of problems that soon appeared since she, and her two co-workers, mailed out some 12,000 personalized envelops to active, registered voters.

According to Neil, “When I got the first phone call, on Feb. 12, from a voter who complained of receiving a ballot for the wrong political party, I was more pleased than worried. It told me that the ballots were being delivered in plenty of time.”

To Neil that meant there would be no repeat of the problem with the last election’s mailing, when the contractor sent out the ballots and they arrived terribly late.

So, this time around Neil was relieved to know that lateness was not the problem. Neil made sure of that by taking the mailing step back in-house. For this election cycle, the contactor handled only the ballot printing, addressing, and bar coding, then had them all shipped enmasse to the clerk’s office, with the staff there taking them all to the post office.

Sadly, Neil’s relief turned out to be short lived because one of the next phone calls she received was from KSL news wanting some comment in response to multiple phone calls from voters concerned about receiving the wrong ballot.

Neil says that this will probably be the last time she uses the company, SeaChange, to prepare Sanpete’s ballot, because “they have messed up now two years in a row.” Before that, the company’s previous record of service to the county was unblemished.

SeaChange has estimated that the wrong political party ballot was mistakenly prepared for some 250-260 voters. So far, Neil has received calls from only 90 people who have received the wrong ballot. Yet, when she compared her list of 90 names with the much larger list of errors identified by SeaChange, some of her names were not there.

As a result, Neil is hoping that everyone who has received a ballot in the mail will open it soon and call her office if their ballot is not from the primary in which they want to vote. By calling sooner, rather than later, the problem can be solved via mail. Those who don’t open their ballot until just before the voting deadline, on Mar. 3, will need to come to the clerk’s office in the courthouse in Manti to have the correct ballot prepared and handed to them.

When pressed for details about the computer hiccup before the current problems, Neil said she understood it was comparable to having the selected row in a spreadsheet temporarily jump down a line for a few name before jumping back to the correct place again.

With 9 out of 10 active voters in Sanpete County being registered as Republicans, the mistakes made during a brief computer glitch might still send most voters the correct ballot. If by chance, some super hiccup were to prepare two ballots for the same voter, Neil’s system for hand validating each ballot that is cast will ensure that one voter gets to vote only one time.

So, even if a voter were to try to submit two ballots, Neil’s hand validation system will count only the first ballot processed for each and every voter. In that process, each ballot’s tear off strip with its bar code and fresh signature is scanned while still attached, which prompts the computer to place on the screen the name and signature on file for that voter.

When a visual check, by a human being in the clerk’s office, validates that the fresh signature on the ballot’s removable strip matches the name and handwriting on file, the strip is then torn off and the ballot, which is now unlinked from any particular voter, is placed with all the validated ballots that will be counted in the election.

In Neil’s view, “integrity and privacy are of the upmost importance.” Also, in her view, while a human can make mistakes, a computer can make more mistakes and make them faster. So, validating all ballots by hand, and then counting the validated ones by hand, still remains the safest way to go.