BATH — A malfunctioning piece of hardware led to a mostly sleepless night for a select few in Bath, with city officials and election volunteers working into the early morning to tabulate absentee ballots.

“It was like that nightmare that you always think might happen,” said Bath City Clerk Mary White, who was working until 2:30 a.m. to get Bath’s ballots counted after problems with a memory card.

It’s not clear how the memory card became corrupted, but the unforeseen complication extended vote counting in Bath by several hours and prevent results from getting out until the next morning. Officials don’t know why they ran into problems with the card.

In Maine and other states, official vote tallies from voting machines are stored on special memory cards, which are transferred to the secretary of state’s office.

In a typical election year, White does everything she can to make election day run smoothly. For instance, the day before the election she tallied all of the approximately 900 absentee ballots that came in prior to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. That way, when polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, all that needs to be tabulated are the votes that were made in person on election day and the few absentee ballots that trickle in on Monday and Tuesday.

So when the machine finished tabulating election day ballots a little after 9 p.m. Tuesday night, White and company believed they were near the end. After all, the vast majority of the more than 4,000 ballots cast in Bath had been counted and all that remained were the couple hundred absentee ballots that came in on Monday and Tuesday.

“We got out the absentee (memory) stick and put it in, and (my husband) starts to boot it up like always,” said White. “But it wouldn’t go into voting mode to accept the rest of the ballots that they had got out. No matter what he tried, it would not do it.”

White reached out to the secretary of state’s office, whose staff was unable to troubleshoot the issue over the phone. With only a couple hundred ballots left to count, things ground to a halt in Bath. Finally, at about 11 p.m., a voting machines technician arrived to take a look at the memory stick.

According to White, the technician concluded that the memory stick was corrupted, and White would have to recount all of the absentee ballots and add them to the other memory stick with the Election Day results on it.

“They decided what we were going to do was, we would set up the three machines just like we had during the election and put the absentee ballots through and add them to it,” said White.

At 9 p.m. Election Day, town officials and volunteers were close to finishing with just a couple hundred absentee ballots to count. Suddenly, closing in on midnight, the group faced the daunting task of re-counting about 1,100 absentee ballots.

“It’s been a long day,” said White wearily Wednesday afternoon. “By the time we got it all cleaned up over there and back over here was 2:30 this morning.”

White said after more than 18 hours of election work, she was too tired to even understand the election results.

“My mind was being boggled at that point,” she said laughing. “We were just too darn tired.”

After a few short hours of rest, White came back in Wednesday morning around 8 a.m. to record the election results and send them in.

This isn’t White’s first chaotic election night. She recalled one night close to 20 years ago, not long after she had first started working as the city clerk. A storm knocked out the power at the Huse School as they were counting. Back then, Bath counted all ballots by hand, so memory cards weren’t a concern. But counting ballots by hand in the dark posed its own challenges.

“We had to go scurry up lamps, flashlights, anything we could find to light up the gymnasium to count ballots,” said White. “We got it done.”

Bath isn’t the only community to have experienced problems at the polls.

Kristen Schulze Muszynski, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said 21 communities in Maine reported issues with tabulating elections.

“Most were resolved quickly,” Schulze Muszynski said, adding that about half of the issues were solved “in short order.”

The office has four technicians on hand to deal with these types of problems for the entire state.

Across the country, reports poured in Tuesday amid heavy voter turnout of equipment failing or malfunctioning, triggering frustration among voters and long lines at polling places.

Voters on Election Day and during early voting in the weeks before reported sporadic problems with election equipment in numerous states, including Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which runs the nonpartisan Election Protection voter assistance hotline.

Scanners used to record ballots broke down in New York City. Voting machines stalled or stopped working in Detroit. Electronic poll books used to check in voters failed in Georgia. Machines failed to read ballots in Wake County, North Carolina, as officials blamed humidity and lengthy ballots.

The clock is ticking to make upgrades, with the presidential election just two years away. Selecting and buying new voting machines can easily take a year and a half or longer, and that’s assuming a state has money to spend.

“It’s not like going into Best Buy, and saying ‘I want 250 of those machines,'” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Those problems followed a busy early voting period that revealed other concerns, including machines that altered voters’ choices in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

Congress sent $380 million to states earlier this year, but that was nowhere near enough to pay for the bulk of the nation’s nearly 10,000 election jurisdictions to upgrade their equipment. Experts with the Brennan Center for Justice have estimated it would take $1 billion or more to make the necessary upgrades.

For her part, White said she was just happy the election was over.

“It was just a fluke thing, and we just happened to be the recipient I guess. But everything worked out. Things looked much better this morning after a couple hours of sleep,” said White.

CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY and MICHAEL LIEDTKE  of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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