[Image courtesy of Walsh County]

Right now, Walsh County, ND is suffering through every election official’s worst nightmare: they cannot figure out the results of an election. The Grand Forks Herald has the details:

The Walsh County election canvassing board spent more than seven hours Tuesday without successfully finding the source of a 301-vote discrepancy in the Nov. 6 general election.

That is, there were 4,603 people that voted, but the tally came to 4,904 votes.

Compounding the pain is the fact that at least once seat on the county council may be affected, as one candidate missed out on a seat by fewer than 100 votes.

What’s worse, the discrepancy may have been caused by other problems with the election – in particular, yet another instance where underestimating turnout had downstream effects:

The working theory is that it was an unintentional error that resulted when some ballots were tabulated twice, Silrum said. He and other officials from the secretary of state’s office reviewed election procedures and offered guidance throughout the day.

The error is believed to have occurred as a result of a ballot shortage on election day in Grafton. To correct the shortage, officials photocopied 300 blank ballots to distribute to voters.

Because the photocopied ballots are not recognized by vote-counting machines, they had to be hand-tallied into the election results. Officials believe those ballots inadvertently were added to the totals twice.

The error was not discovered until later, when the federal court system entered the names of voters in the election into its jury pool database. Officials there determined that the total number of votes counted in the election exceed the total number of voters by 301.

The state has assured the county that voting machines are not the culprit; they were tested before and after the election and no problems were discovered.

If the 301-vote discrepancy cannot be reconciled soon, the county will have to reopen and recount all 4,603 ballots from November.

As painful as that may be, it’s likely to be preferable to the current situation where the outcome of the November election is in doubt.

Here’s hoping Walsh County can get it figured out soon – I wouldn’t be surprised if election officials across the country are having sympathy pains, knowing how difficult it can be when an election cannot provide a definitive winner.