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Clermont vote counters pull all-nighter with malfunctions
New machines, long ballots, write-in candidates stall tally

By Kevin Osborne    Cincinnati Enquirer   10 November 2005

BATAVIA - More than 12 hours after polls closed Tuesday night, Clermont County election officials still were tallying votes.

It wasn't until 7:44 a.m. Wednesday that Board of Elections personnel finished counting the 42,000 ballots cast. By that time, the sun had risen, some people had eaten breakfast and many children were on their way to school.

Candidates running for office and backers of levy campaigns, however, were anxiously waiting by their computers to learn the election's outcome.

John Gray, president of the West Clermont Board of Education, waited - and waited - for the results on the district's bond issue that sought money to replace school buildings and athletic facilities.

He was logged onto the Internet when he saw final results appear shortly before 8 a.m. (The bond issue lost.)

"It looks like we need to invest in some education to teach people how to count in Clermont County," said an exasperated Gray.

He wasn't alone in the frustration.

Officials at the board of elections were dismayed by the series of events that turned what should have been a relatively quick election night into a test of endurance.

"My God, we've never had that kind of experience before," said longtime board member Priscilla O'Donnell. "It was like a hurricane blew through there."

The slow pace mostly was because of paper ballots that didn't have proper perforation marks, election officials said. As a result, the ballots frequently jammed the optical scanning machines.

Many ballots had to be ed into the machines two or three times before they were scanned properly.

"It appears from what we were told by our (computer) guy is that our ballot vendor did not hit the correct cut mark all of the time when the ballots were created," board chairman Tim Rudd said. "It was very evident when you stacked the ballots into a deck.

"The cut marks would vary instead of lining up."

O'Donnell added, "Our team did the best they could, but they were practically feeding them into the scanners one at a time."

Clermont County was using a new optical scanning voting system.

The machines, on loan from the manufacturer, replaced an older version that was scrapped after the August special election. That system had problems with ballots sticking together because of high humidity.

To make Wednesday's matters worse, each ballot was two pages because of the long list of state issues, and there were write-in candidates in at least seven county races that had to be counted by hand.

In addition, one of the four scanners malfunctioned shortly into the process Tuesday night.

"It was a confluence of events, really," O'Donnell said. "I kept thinking, 'What next?' "

After the vote counting finally was done, the Board of Elections sent its bleary-eyed workers home and closed its offices for the day shortly after 8 a.m.

Clermont County had the second-slowest election results in the state Tuesday, behind Lucas County outside Toledo. That county finished counting its 16,000 ballots at 9:08 a.m.

Overall, 20 of Ohio's 88 counties finished counting ballots after midnight.

The Ohio Secretary of State's office said it would examine the problems in Clermont County.

"It's always important for counties to get it right rather than get it quick," said James Lee, a secretary of state spokesman.

"It's not unusual for there to be one or even two counties not to get it done until 3, 4 or even 5 in the morning. We like to know the reasons and the reasons are always different every year," Lee said.

The machines that Clermont used Tuesday were on loan from the manufacturer because the Secretary of State's office had delayed a purchase order to buy new equipment, Rudd said. The machines that the county purchases are expected to be newer and hopefully won't have the problems, he said.

Under the optical-scanner voting system, voters use No. 2 pencils to darken ovals on a paper ballot.

That paper ballot is then fed into an optical scanner at the voter's precinct.

Resembling a portable automated-teller machine, the scanner takes what essentially is a digital picture of the ballot and records those votes.

The system lets voters know immediately whether their ballot was accepted and, if it wasn't, what they did wrong so it can be corrected.

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