A glitch in the phone lines leading into the Pinellas County elections server brought Tuesday night's primary to a crawl, forcing pollworkers at precincts scattered across the county to drive results to headquarters.
The phone line failure delayed results by about 90 minutes, as workers as far away as Tarpon Springs drove to election headquarters in Largo. Once there, they pulled into a warehouse and handed off plastic pouches containing memory sticks to workers who raced through the building to deliver the packets to the tabulation team.
What should have been — and for years, has been — a simple process of sending information electronically turned into a system resembling a fire brigade.
"If we had to have an issue, I'd rather have it in this election than in November," said Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.
Pollworkers had tested the phone bank system in the days leading up to the election, said Nancy Whitlock, an elections spokeswoman.
"We checked everything," Clark said. "We try to make it fail. We test it to death here."
For most of the evening, elections staff believed the technical problems stemmed from the building's server and they switched to a backup, which also didn't work. It was only after all the memory sticks had been handed in that elections staff discovered the problem was with the building's phone lines.
The technical problems became apparent immediately after the polls closed at 7 p.m. and workers were unable to transmit their results.
"At first we thought we could fix it, but then we realized we had better get people on the road," Whitlock said.