Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NC: Early Voters Got Wrong Ballot

By Jennifer Ferris: The Herald-Sun (jferris@heraldsun.com)
Apr 18, 2006 : 7:45 pm ET

PITTSBORO -- When Gene Brooks went to vote Tuesday he saw a few things on the ballot that shouldn't have been there: the names of Rep. David Price and his opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District Four.

Brooks lives in District Two, and shouldn't have been allowed to pick a nominee for the District Four race, but elections officials say a screw-up with the voting equipment caused Brooks -- and about 60 others -- to receive the wrong ballot.

The start of one-stop voting Thursday also marked the inaugural run of a new set of voting machines in Chatham County. Voters use a touch screen to pick candidates and ballots are stored on a portable medium called a PEB.

Dawn Stumpf, Chatham County director of elections, said Tuesday the ballot problem stems from an error made by the company that provides the new material, Electronic Systems and Software, Inc.

The choice of those new systems is the target of a lawsuit currently filed against the county Board of Elections, and the machines themselves have been questioned by many in the county.

The voters in two precincts -- Hadley and Pittsboro -- are split between the two congressional districts. ES&S should have provided different ballot styles for each group of voters, but only provided a single ballot style for democratic voters in those precincts, officials said.

This means there are about 60 extra votes in the District Four race that now must be sorted out, Stumpf explained. The District Four race is the only difference between the two ballots, and votes cast in other races will not be affected by the mistake.

When voting began Thursday, Stumpf said she knew something was wrong with the selections, but voters were allowed to continue using the errant ballots until Tuesday afternoon, when the state board told her to start giving voters from these districts paper versions.

Although Stumpf said she isn't sure exactly how she will sort out the extra votes in District Four, she said it was fortunate the error happened during early voting. By law, all one-stop -- or absentee -- ballots must be retrievable -- that is, connected to a voter -- so records will allow the elections office to match completed ballots against voters.

Voters participating in one-stop were assigned a unique number, which was then typed into the voting machine by the precinct worker before the voter could begin. Presumably, the elections office will retrieve votes made by anyone from the effected areas.

Another question is how the votes will be tallied come Election Day. The mis-programmed PEBs were sent to Goldsboro for reprogramming Tuesday. The master PEB contained all 300 votes cast during the first three days of voting.

The engineers at ES&S must find a way to sum up the votes from before and after the change. Stumpf said she wasn't sure how that would work, but she was certain all votes would be counted.

Starting today, Stumpf said, voters in all districts voting one-stop should receive appropriate ballots. During the primary in May the correct ballots also will be available. In fact, Stumpf said, catching the mistake during one-stop was actually fortuitous, because the primary ballots had been programmed incorrectly as well.


"We haven't lost any votes," Stumpf said. "It just appears we got a few extra."
(One has to ask how they "got a few extra...")

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