If at first you don’t succeed, go to Plan B, then C to count votes

Behind the scenes Saturday night, General Assembly staff was scrambling – decently and in order, of course – to solve technology challenges leading up to the election of the next moderator.

And outside the hall, officials were faced with an unrelated technological challenge as the People Mover, used by many Assembly attendees to travel back-and-forth, was out of service due to a reported power outage.

A glitch in Internet access in the host facility, Cobo Center, nixed a new Internet-based style of voting, and so Plan B – voting using a handheld wireless keypad – went into effect during a series of test votes leading up to the election of the new moderator.

But even after a total of four test votes, GA officials weren’t confident enough in Plan B, and so reverted to Plan C – voting by paper ballot, the first time since 1987 that paper ballots had been needed.

Officials said they wanted to be sure that every vote by each person eligible to vote was counted.

“It’s always been my conviction,” joked Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, “that once we stopped using flannel graphs, it was a downhill slide ever since.”

Deb Davies, an assistant stated clerk for the General Assembly and coordinator of meeting services, confirmed that it was the Internet system within the building – and not the new voting system – that led to the rotation of voting methods Saturday night.

“The Internet in the building just wasn’t supporting it,” she said. “It’s not the system of voting. We’re working with people in the building because we very much want to clear this up.”

As commissioners cast the test ballots, Tom Hay, associate stated clerk of the General Assembly for operations, reinforced the need to assure commissioners that every vote counts. “If we don’t get the number of votes we feel we need, we are ready to go to paper ballots,” he said. In the end, that’s exactly what happened.

During the test ballots, the number of commissioners successfully casting ballots increased each time. But in the final test, only 578 of the possible 630 keypad votes were tallied.

Former moderators seemed to take the voting difficulties in stride. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2010), sent out this Tweet: “In case you are wondering, the ‘Former Moderators’ Row’ is very glad we are not up there right now.”

by Mike Ferguson