Winona County officials mistakenly failed to report more than 1,500 ballots when announcing primary election results to the public Tuesday night. The error by the Winona County Auditor-Treasurer's office had no effect on the outcome of the election, and numbers reported to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office were accurate, county auditor-treasurer Sue Rivers said.
But the mistake meant Winona County residents woke up Wednesday with an inaccurate account of poll numbers. In some cases, races were far less competitive than initially reported. Voter turnout was also higher - 18 percent compared to the 13 percent figure announced by the county on election night.
In all, local election workers failed to report 1,554 votes, or more than a third of the ballots cast.
Rivers accepted blame for the confusion, attributing the mix-up in large part to her inexperience. This is her first year as a county auditor, and Tuesday was her first time managing an election. "Part of the problem is that I am new at this," Rivers said, "and I'm still learning."
Election officials entered tallies through two systems as ballots were counted Tuesday night - the Secretary of State's official database, and a program that projected local results onto a screen for the public to view. Two different people entered the data into the separate systems.
The projected data caused confusion throughout Tuesday night for those at the Winona County Government Center, as voter tallies fluctuated, sometimes wildly. At times, local candidates appeared to lose scores of voters in a matter of minutes.
"I'm not quite sure what happened," Rivers said. "When the chips were read, something didn't jibe right."
The official entering the data into the local program did not enter some figures correctly, Rivers said. Shortly after 11 p.m., it appeared county staff had fixed the fluctuations, and Rivers said the numbers, while unofficial, were the county's final voter tally with all 49 precincts reporting.
But officials realized later - after they stopped posting vote totals for the public - that the numbers were off from those sent to the state. Rivers declined to allow reporters on-the-record interviews with the Winona County staff members who tabulated the ballots and posted the numbers.
Rivers said it was her lack of familiarity with the reporting systems and elections that caused the confusion, namely that she did not clearly understand that the data being displayed was different from data sent to the state.
The numbers sent to the Secretary of State's office were always correct, Rivers said, and were not changed. State election officials last received Winona County figures at 11:16 p.m., state elections director Gary Poser said.
A veteran county employee, Rivers was appointed treasurer in 1994 when Audrey Sierack retired. She has won re-election four times since. In 2009, county commissioners consolidated the auditor and treasurer's offices, adding election administration duties to a position that traditionally dealt mainly with taxes.
Rivers said she received election training from the Secretary of State's office prior to Tuesday's primary.
She is running unopposed in November for the combined auditor-treasurer position.
Winona Daily News City Editor Matt Christensen contributed to this report.