Software that malfunctioned and stalled vote tallying in Johnson County for more than three hours on election night was of the same brand that has been under scrutiny for years and has caused counting errors in other parts of the country. The Global Election Management System – or GEMS – was not the only cause of a breakdown on election night, but it was definitely one of the most frustrating, said county Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker. Vote counters lost hours of time as they waited for help from a technical support person in Nebraska who they hoped could tell them why the system suddenly dropped 2,100 ballots from its database and how to get them back. When that help wasn’t forthcoming, the workers ended up re-scanning the paper ballots so they could be re-loaded into the database. In the end, election officials didn’t get their closing totals out until about 1:30 p.m. the next day, due to the computer breakdown and tidal waves of last-minute registrations and advance votes, Metsker said.
Concerns about GEMS are nothing new in Johnson County. Former election commissioner Brian Newby warned that the system was drastically out of date before he left to become director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission last year. Metsker has said the voting machines, which were manufactured around 2003 or 2004, are thought to be the oldest in use in the country. While voting machines were not part of the problem Nov. 8th, they use the same software as the scanners.
Earlier this year the county commission agreed to put new voting machines, which would come with new software, in its budget plan for about $12.8 million. But a vendor has yet to be chosen because there aren’t any on the market now that Metsker especially likes. Metsker has said he’s interested in a new system that has not yet been certified by Newby’s agency.
GEMS is part of Election Systems and Software, formerly Diebold Inc. The electronic voting vendor has its roots in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, famous for the “hanging chad” controversy from old paper punch voting machines.