By Erica C. Barnett
County Executive Dow Constantine’s office chalked Tuesday night’s very late-to-go-live election results up to a “traffic issue” related to a new web platform and design that has more than its share of very visible bugs. Essentially, according to the county, the new system was not set up to handle the large amount of traffic caused by thousands of people trying to load the website at 8:15 —when the first batch of results are posted every year—and, as a result, the link that would ordinarily go to a results page simply didn’t function.
King County Elections, which has been busy counting ballots after a brief delay when someone mailed white powder to election offices across the state, has not yet responded to our request for comment on the glitch, which forced people at election night parties, and elsewhere across the county, to turn to KING 5’s website, which had the results before they were generally available on the county site.
Earlier this year, King County IT staff and a group of outside consultants transformed the county’s website into a bare-bones, temporary-looking shell of its former self, with few images to break up the white space of what is now a mostly text-based site. The “upgraded” site—now includes many broken links (like the ones on this page to programs funded by the county’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency levy) and gives prominent placement to a random assortment of county services: Metro, live traffic cameras in unincorporated King County, animal services, and job listings.
The county’s 2019-2020 budget included $1.3 million for upgrading the site. According to that budget, the changes were necessary to ” facilitate increased engagement with the public and improve their experience… [by] reduc[ing] web content, so people spend less time searching for information they want and more time engaging with the information. …To ensure engagement, KCIT will invest in modernizing the KingCounty.gov platform and the County’s web presence.”
Post-“modernization,” it can be maddeningly difficult to navigate the site—which, even if technically outdated, used to be fairly intuitive. If you’re interested in looking up a specific department’s website, your best bet is to go to the throwback A-Z site index, but you better know exactly what you’re looking for: “Garbage and recycling facilities,” for example, goes to a different page than “Garbage, recycling, and compost services,” and the Maleng Regional Justice Center—the downtown Seattle jail’s South King County counterpart—can now be found at a link labeled “Kent Jail.”
The county does plan to conduct an after-action report on what went wrong on election night. Fingers crossed that it will prompt to re-evaluate the entire “upgrade”—and perhaps downgrade it to a version that people can actually use.