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Vote count goes all night
Errors, unfamiliarity with computerized voting at heart of problem

By Jim Bebbington

Dayton Daily News   10 November 2005

DAYTON ? Montgomery County election results trickled in throughout the night Tuesday, a far cry from the image of the new computer-based voting systems quickly zipping out results minutes after the polls closed.
A series of errors and unfamiliarity with the new voting systems by some of the hundreds of Montgomery County poll workers led to an all-night vote count. Board officials had to roust some board employees out of bed at 4 a.m. to return to poll locations and look for missing vote tabulation computer cards.

The cards were rounded up and a final, unofficial vote tally posted at 6:43 a.m.

The problems began to cascade shortly after polls closed at 7:30 p.m. and poll workers were supposed to add the votes from all the machines at their precinct onto a single computer memory card.

"It's the most complex process the poll workers have to go through (on Election Day)," said Steve Harsman, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

Confused poll workers throughout the county flooded the Board of Elections phone help-line with calls.

In most cases, trouble-shooters were able to talk the workers through the process over the phone, but in a few cases they had to drive out to the polling station and get the tabulation moving.

Here is what was supposed to happen:

? Poll workers take a computer memory card from each of the precinct's machines ? there are usually four machines per precinct ? and them each into one of the machines.

? The machine tabulates the vote totals from the individual cards and records them onto a single memory card.

? The cards are sealed in a clear plastic bag and transported to the downtown Dayton Board of Elections offices for tabulation.

"They should have been able to shut down and pack up within a half hour," said a sleep-deprived Harsman Wednesday afternoon.

But by 8:30 p.m. Tuesday no cards had yet arrived downtown. Slowly, a stream of cars began appearing on West Third Street, heading toward the -off in the basement of the Montgomery County Administration Building.

The vote count stalled again, though, when downtown board officials realized some poll workers had not done the last step of loading the memory cards into a machine for tabulation.

Downtown vote counters were supposed to only read one card from each of the 548 precincts. Instead, they had to read more than 2,000. Adding up the precinct totals cost the election workers another hour and a half delay, Harsman said.

The night of surprises was just beginning.

As the downtown count neared 90 percent complete, the workers discovered that 186 memory cards were missing.

The workers canvassed through the satchels the poll workers had ped off at the Board of Elections ? bags carrying everything from pens to "I Voted Today" stickers to voter registration books ? and came up with 171 memory cards.

However, that still left about 15 missing cards. It was the middle of the night and some staff members had barely slept in the past 48 hours.

A phone call to the Ohio Secretary of State's office brought marching orders ? they could not stop until every card was tracked down.

"We were scrambling," Harsman said.

Election officials phoned staff members who had already been sent home and dispatched them to the polling places where cards were missing. They found all the cards, some still stuck in the voting machines, Harsman said.

The only solace: It could have been worse. In Lucas County, vote counting did not stop until 9 a.m. Wednesday, a problem caused by a lack of poll workers, according to a report by The (Toledo) Blade.

Harsman said that despite the problems, voters seemed to appreciate the new machines.

"Considering the monumental task of implementing this new technology, I don't think it could have gone better for the voter," he said.

The countywide turnout Tuesday was 35.6 percent of registered voters.

Vote totals are unofficial. Final results will include late-coming absentee ballots (postmarked as of Tuesday), provisional ballots and any uncounted votes from members of the military overseas.

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