Hartford, CT, Tuesday, April 19, 2016
They’ve been working on it for more than five years, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said they’ve finished development of a real-time election results reporting system that works for Connecticut.
The program, which will be tested Tuesday in some towns, will allow local election officials to enter returns for their town into an Internet-based program that will share the results from each polling location with the public online.
This will be the first time Connecticut voters will have access to real-time election results. In the past, local election officials were allowed to fax in their vote tallies to the Secretary of the State’s office, or they could email the results in a pdf document, many of which included handwritten tallies. The information wasn’t in an easily downloadable form and it made getting results difficult.
In the past, The Associated Press would collaborate with its member news organizations to staff every Connecticut town to gather election results during statewide elections. But based on attrition in the news industry, staffing every town isn’t always possible anymore. Typically, the two major parties’ campaigns had the information before the news media and everyone was expected to trust the information they were provided, at least for the first 24 hours after the polls closed.
In the new software, the news media will have separate access to the data so that if the public website crashes because of high traffic, news organizations will still have access to the results.
The program was developed by PCC Technology Group of Windsor. Merrill estimated that it cost between $350,000 to $450,000 to build, as part of a larger service contract with the state.
“I do believe we are the only state with a system that is this comprehensive,” Merrill said. “It’s actually a management tool for local officials.”
There are more than 800 polling locations in Connecticut. And with a decentralized electoral system, getting local Registrars of Voters to use the system proved daunting a few years ago when they piloted their first program in a dozen towns.
Ted Bromley, legal counsel for Merrill’s office, said he sees more local election officials embracing the new technology, which will replace fax machines and pdfs.
Local officials will still have 48 hours to submit their official results to the Secretary of the State’s office, but they can report the unofficial results online before the numbers are finalized.
Using the new Internet-based system won’t be mandatory until November. However, Merrill said 140 of the 169 towns have been trained over the past few weeks on how to use the system, which also offers local election officials tools to better calculate some of the results without having to resort to a pen, paper, and calculator.
It’s unclear at the moment how many towns will take advantage of the new program April 26 for the Republican and Democratic presidential primary.
In 2015, East Hartford was the only town to test out the new program, which has since been upgraded.
At the time, Merrill suggested they would not be able to use the system during municipal elections based on the idiosyncrasies of each local form of government in Connecticut. However, the developer was able to make it work and now local registrars will be able to use it during municipal election years, too.
Bromley said the system likely will be improved based on suggestions from local elected officials, but the current iteration of the program is the one they plan to use for the November election.
Merrill said several states have real-time results reporting, but none of the states have created the “comprehensive management system” that Connecticut created for local elected officials to input the information.
“All the reports and all the election management really took some time to do,” Bromley said. “Because in Connecticut we have 169 different towns.”