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Some votes miscounted in primary, officials say

Union Tribune (2004-04-08) Luis Monteagudo

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Some votes miscounted in primary, officials say

By Luis Monteagudo Jr. and Helen Gao

April 8, 2004

County officials said yesterday they discovered a new problem with the flawed March election – 2,821 absentee ballots that were miscounted in the Democratic presidential and Senate Republican primaries.

The miscounted paper ballots did not affect the outcome of the races, and county officials have corrected the results.

The software glitch that caused the miscounts has raised new doubts among county officials about the $31 million electronic voting system used in the March primaries.

County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard said his confidence in the system has been "dampened." Meanwhile, a state official raised the possibility for the first time that the system could be dropped for the November election.

"All options are on the table, including decertification," said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

Ekard sent a letter to the manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems Inc., demanding that it fix the problems before November. A Diebold spokesman said the company will work with county and state officials on any problems.

During the March 2 election, one of the pieces of equipment used at polling sites was not fully tested, and it failed. That failure was one of the reasons cited in a county report for the delayed opening of more than a third of the county's 1,611 polling places.

The latest problem was discovered in the standard canvassing of votes that county officials conduct after an election.

Most of the absentee miscounts occurred in the Democratic presidential race, in which 2,747 votes cast for John Kerry were incorrectly credited to Rep. Dick Gephardt. In the Senate race, in which Bill Jones won, 68 votes cast for Barry L. Hatch were credited to candidate Tim Stoen, and six votes cast for James Stewart were credited to Stoen.

The miscounts occurred because multiple scanners simultaneously fed the absentee ballot data into the computer tabulation system. The large number of ballots and candidates on them overwhelmed the system.

Diebold spokesman David Bear said the company has provided a software fix to the county for the new problem.

Ekard wants Diebold to have all its equipment tested and certified before November.

"These performance failures are unacceptable," Ekard wrote. "Having a reliable and trouble-free voting system is absolutely essential to the county. Your failure to provide such a system in the March election was extremely troubling and any issues that remain must be fully resolved long before the November election."

Ekard has appointed Mikel Haas, the county's former registrar of voters, to oversee efforts to ensure that all Diebold equipment is certified for November and to evaluate other systems that could be used as an alternative.

Alex Martinez, a county deputy chief administrative officer who is leading an internal investigation into the electronic voting problems, said the county has not yet paid Diebold for the 10,200 touch screens used March 2.

"We are not about to pay Diebold any amount of money until we are totally satisfied with the performance of the system," he said.

The state Voting Systems and Procedures Panel is scheduled to discuss Diebold's performance in the March election at a two-day meeting starting April 21 in Sacramento.

Martinez said the county is waiting to see the outcome of the meeting before making any plans on using alternative systems. He said he believes the Diebold machines could be used successfully in November if the manufacturer corrects the problems promptly.

County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said if the problems can't be fixed, "we need to change to a new system to make sure we have a reliable and trouble-free voting system in place by the November election."

The new problem also worried others.

"Unfortunately, what it does is raise more questions than it answers, and it continues to cause concern with the ability to have an election in November be accurate and reliable," said Nancy Sasaki, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Pamela Smith, chairwoman of the local group SAVE-Democracy, which opposes electronic machines, said the problem reinforces her group's stand.

"Thank God there's paper there so they can recount it," she said of the absentee ballots.
Luis Monteagudo: (619) 542-4589;

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Title Some votes miscounted in primary, officials say
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Luis Monteagudo
Pub Date 2004-04-08
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Keywords Election Integrity
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Media Group News
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Topic revision: r1 - 2008-12-17, RaymondLutz
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