Baldwin finds glitch in voting
Error turned Republican Gruenloh into a Democrat in uncontested race
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
By GUY BUSBY
A Baldwin voting machine glitch discovered after the Nov. 7 election turned unopposed Republican County Commissioner Wayne Gruenloh into a Democrat, at least in some of the ballot-counting, officials said Monday.
The error did not affect the outcome of any races, said Probate Judge Adrian Johns. In 2002, a Baldwin computer malfunction triggered controversy in the gubernatorial election by awarding Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman 6,300 more votes than he had received. When officials corrected the tally, Republican challenger Bob Riley gained statewide victory by a thin margin.
Johns said the 2006 problem was a programming error and not a faulty piece of equipment, as was the case four years ago.
"It seems that we had a bump in the road Tuesday," Johns said Monday. "It concerned only Commissioner Wayne Gruenloh's race, which was an uncontested race."
Programmers for Election Systems and Software, the company that supplies the machines to Baldwin and many other Alabama counties, listed Gruenloh as a Democrat on data packs that record voting information, said Mark Kelly, an ES&S representative.
Kelly said he was not aware of this problem occurring before.
"Everything goes through two or three levels of testing and proofing, and unfortunately it slipped through all of them," he said. "We're not in any way trying to excuse the fact that an error has occurred."
Kelly said the data packs and central counting system for Baldwin County were re-examined after the error was discovered. All other returns are correct and all candidates were listed correctly, he said.
Gruenloh was listed as a Republican on the paper ballot that Baldwin voters filled out Nov. 7. They had a choice of voting for Gruenloh individually or as part of the Republican Party ticket.
According to Kelly, the computer program would have correctly recorded the individual votes for Gruenloh. But instead of also awarding him Republican-ticket votes, it apparently gave him Democratic-ticket votes.
Johns said he and other election officials noticed Wednesday that Gruenloh's totals did not match those of other unopposed Republican candidates.
"Most unopposed Republican candidates, such as myself, got about 35,000 votes," Johns said. "He got about 28,000. Something appeared to be out of sync, but we didn't know what."
After probate officials discovered the error, Johns contacted the other two members of the county's Canvassing Board, Capt. Marvin Ussery, chief civil deputy with the Sheriff's Office, and Circuit Clerk Jody Campbell, and told them of the discrepancy. He said he also notified District Attorney Judy Newcomb to ask if a recount was needed before the totals in that race were certified.
Newcomb said that since there was no losing candidate, she did not see a legal objection to certifying the race. She said she hoped that the issue will be studied and more precautions taken before the next election.
Gruenloh said he would not ask for a recount.
"Since it doesn't affect the outcome, I'd hate to spend the taxpayers' money to do a recount just so I'd have more votes on the final total," he said.
The commissioner said he was glad that the error occurred in an uncontested race in which the problem could be found before it affected a future election. "It's a lesson learned," he said. "With every election, we get a little bit better."
Johns said the sheriff's department, not his office, oversaw the controversial vote count in 2002 and that the system was upgraded after that election and additional safeguards added.
"In both instances, it was human error," he said.