Thursday, March 23, 2006

NBC 5: Vote Counting Resumes Thursday (23 Mar)

Stroger Holds Slim Lead As Counting Resumes

UPDATED: 11:12 am CST March 23, 2006

CHICAGO -- The Democratic primary for Cook County Board president was decided with Forrest Claypool's concession Wednesday, but election officials said they would continue counting ballots by hand on Thursday (two days after polls closed) regarless.

The camp of challenger Forrest Claypool accused election officials of "flying blind" with new equipment that they weren't prepared to use. Some of the brand new machines apparently broke down, leaving no way to count many of the ballots but by hand.

At midday Wednesday, various reports of missing ballots and ballots still locked up in precincts unsettled officials.

The new voting machines didn't present a widespread problem to voters, with the most common complaint among them being unwieldy ballots that didn't protect privacy.

But the new electronic voting system turned into a real challenge when it came time to count the votes.

"The fact is, we tried it and it failed. It failed miserably. The level of confusion that reigned through the evening is more than unsettling," a Claypool spokeswoman said.

With technology malfunctioning in nearly 200 precincts in the city and county, boxes were hauled overnight into election headquarters. Officials tallied votes until 3 a.m., as officials were crowded with questions from the campaigns about the integrity of the process.

"The integrity of the election process will be carefully and vigilantly guarded," an election official said.

But members of both board president camps continued to voice concern. "It's not enough to say that we're going to maintain the integrity of the process. We need to know how, and we need to know how they are going to proceed," said a spokesman for the current board president, John Stroger.

But the campaigns for Stroger and Claypool are being forced to sit it out until the final vote count comes in.

"Is this disappointing? Yes. Am I upset about this? Yes. But nothing, I don't think, has happened so far (that) impugns the electoral process," a top election official said.

Election officials say one key problem is that they don't know exactly where the uncounted ballots are from, which could ultimately make a difference in the lead Stroger held Wednesday morning.

With 87 percent of the votes counted around noon Wednesday, Claypool had 47 percent of the vote to Stroger's 52 percent.

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