When the polls closed Tuesday none of the information about the vote in any town was available to the public because the Secretary of the State’s results reporting website wasn’t working.
“They’ve been working all night to figure out what the problem is,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill says.
Merrill says the data was entered locally, but never appeared on the public-facing website.
“We have the data. It’s safe and secure and has been uploaded but has not been able to be displayed,” Merrill says.
The results reporting website was restored by Wednesday afternoon, but that didn’t help voters trying to find information on Tuesday night.
“This is almost a courtesy we do at the state level to display the results that are sent into us by the towns,” Merrill says.
Quinnipiac University Journalism Professor Rich Hanley says this information is essential.
“The state needs to step in here because newspapers can no longer afford to play that role of election night arbiter or election night tabulator,” Hanley says.
The Associated Press sends people to every polling place in the state in some election years, but not this year. Which meant the media was forced in some cases to rely on information provided by the candidates or the parties.
“An institution such as state government has to step in and make those results available as soon as possible, not as a courtesy but as an imperative to protect democracy,” Hanley says
What happens when there’s an information void?
“In the space between election results being made available or not available conspiracy theories, rumor and innuendo can enter and that can distort confidence in the system,” Hanley says
Results used to be tabulated unofficially by news reporters, but there are not enough reporters these days to cover the entire state.
“Speed is essential to the news business and now we don’t have people to do that because of the closure of papers, layoffs and so on,” Hanley says.
Merrill says the website didn’t get hacked.
“We provide kind of a bulletin board function so the thought that it could be hacked doesn’t even make sense because the data is all still at the local level,” Merrill says.
She says it’s not part of the state’s role.
“The state does not certify local elections. This is all done locally so the only thing that’s missing here is the ability of the public to see what’s being typed in. You can still get it at your local town,” she says.
But that’s not good enough for Hanley.
“The state should have in the 21st century the capacity to retrieve, and display election results within minutes if not a few hours of polls closing and point people to that website, not as a courtesy but as part of their job,” Hanley says.