Friday, March 24, 2006

NH Attorney General seizes Grafton ballots; results all in question after many counted twice

March 15, 2006
Connecticut Valley (New Hampshire) Spectator

Joseph Cote, Reporter

GRAFTON — The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office came to Grafton Wednesday and seized the 369 ballots cast during voting Tuesday and the machine used to count them, after an unknown number of ballots were counted multiple times, according to Town Clerk Mary McDow.

The president of the company that makes the voting machines said operator error, not mechanical problems, put the results of all the town’s elections and warrant articles in question.

But Town Moderator Bonnie Haubrich said readings from the machine never indicated there was a problem.

The ballots will be recounted at a public meeting in Grafton, Senior Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch said. That meeting has not yet been scheduled, but could be as soon as Saturday morning.

There have been some questions raised on the accuracy of the outcome,” Fitch said. “We’re still trying to get a handle on what the issues are. At this point I don’t know there is anything wrong with the results. There were questions raised.”

The ballots cast for Mascoma Valley Regional School District voting were also seized along with the district’s counting machine. Haubrich said, though, that the Attorney General’s office assured her the school results are accurate.

There’s not much I can tell you except that the counts are way off. They all could be switched for all we know,McDow said. “I had no knowledge of this (Tuesday) night. It’s all the moderator that deals with the machine.

McDow said it appears the switch that counts the ballots going through the machine was malfunctioning so that the machine counted ballots even when they jammed and were spit back out.

Until they come in with a true vote, we don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

Haubrich said she thought something might be wrong because the machine rejected so many ballots. She intended to hand-count those ballots at the end of the night.

John Silvestro, president of LHS Associates, which services Grafton’s machine, said the machine’s operator is supposed to read a printout the machine produces when a ballot jams. The printout will show whether the ballot was counted. If it was, he said, the operator can clear that entry and put the ballot back through the machine.

That’s usually what happens,” he said. “If you don’t read the message on the tape you’re kind of doing the election in the dark. Is it a machine problem? I would say absolutely not. This is an operator problem, and if they had questions, they should have called and gotten advice.

Silvestro said election officials can call his company, in Methuen, Mass., at any time and a field agent will be dispatched to the voting location to repair or replace the machine. LHS had a field agent in Enfield all day Tuesday, he said.

We didn’t receive a call from Grafton at all,” he said. “For some reason yesterday no one in Grafton opted to pick up the phone and give us a call.

Haubrich said she did read the machine’s printouts, but they didn’t indicate that the machine had counted those ballots. It wasn’t until after the results were recorded and reported to the media that she realized the tallies didn’t match up with the number of ballots cast.

For instance, there were 193 yes votes and 198 no votes, a total of 391 votes, for Article 22. But only 369 people voted. The top two vote-getters for a three-year seat on the planning board, David Rienzo and Lloyd “Sam” Vose, got a total of 408 votes.

It never said it counted,” Haubrich said. “I’ve never had that happen.”

Haubrich said she didn’t call LHS Associates because she didn’t think the machine had counted them, and so she counted them by hand after the polls closed. She called Selectboard Chairman Steve Darrow on Wednesday morning, and he decided they should notify the Attorney General’s office.

McDow said whatever happened Tuesday, it was an honest mistake.

There’s no foul play or anything. It was just the machine or the dip switch or whatever that was the big problem. (Haubrich) did everything she was supposed to do as far as I can see.

Supervisor of the Checklist Rosalie Babiarz spent most of the day at the polls, although she missed some time because she was ill. She said she didn’t see anyone checking the printout or clearing mis-counted ballots from the machine.

I didn’t see that, no. What I saw was that when someone entered a ballot and it jammed, they tried to put it in again,” she said.

Fitch said his office will investigate whether anything was handled improperly, either intentionally or otherwise.

We always will look at whether any election laws were violated,” he said.


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