Like most political aficionados, Paul Woods looks forward to the excitement of the polls closing and the results pouring in each Election Day. For the past several years, though, Ada County’s results have not poured in. They’ve trickled. Woods had to wait 11 hours after Ada County’s polls closed in the November 2014 election to find out whether he won his race to become an Ada County Highway District commissioner. (He did.) “I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning and they still were not in,” Woods lamented. “I got up at 6 and checked and they were almost done.” Other Idaho counties had tallied ballots and sent election workers home to bed hours before Ada County posted final election results at 7 a.m. In 2012, ballot counting didn’t wrap up until 8 a.m. … Remember Zip disks and Zip drives? That once-cutting-edge computer storage technology fell out of favor around the turn of century. But that bygone technology is still at the heart of Ada County’s election system – and at least part of the reason results take so long.
The disks had a high failure rate, are no longer made and are hard to find. When the county heard the Boise School District was jettisoning its Zip disks, the county snatched them up. It also scours eBay and Craigslist for Zip drives.
The county system relies on Zip technology to tally and track vote tabulation. “On election night, after we put data on the Zip disk, we have someone go in and verify the data actually did get onto the disk because at times that doesn’t happen,” said Ada County Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane said.
Also problematic: the county’s seven temperamental counting machines. Having all seven working at the same time is as rare as those Zip disks and dot-matrix printers the county elections department use