Jammed voting machine misses six ballots in close race (MA)
The Eagle-Tribune. November 10, 2009. By J.J. Huggins
METHUEN — A voting machine jammed during last Tuesday's election, resulting in six votes apparently going uncounted, City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway discovered yesterday.
This adds a new twist to the School Committee election saga, where incumbent Kenneth Henrick placed just five votes ahead of his friend and fellow incumbent George Kazanjian.
Eight people competed for six School Committee seats last week. Henrick placed sixth and Kazanjian placed seventh and lost his spot on the committee.
Henrick said last week that he wanted to resign to allow his friend Kazanjian to remain on the board. But he later decided to keep his post because the School Committee charter would not allow the seat to automatically go to Kazanjian.
While doing her final reconciliation of ballots counted by machine versus the number of people who voted in the election, Touma-Conway found a discrepancy in Precinct 7, where the number of voters checked in and out was six higher than the number of ballots counted by the AccuVote voting machine. That leads Touma-Conway to believe six votes weren't counted.
The machine read 762 ballots, but 768 voters checked in and out at Precinct 7. The box containing the ballots is sealed, so officials don't know for certain whether there are in fact 768 ballots in there, but Touma-Conway expects there is.
Touma-Conway called Kazanjian and Henrick yesterday to tell them what happened, and they both have the option of requesting a recount, which neither has done yet, she said.
"Nothing will be done unilaterally from this office," Touma-Conway said. "They have until Friday (to make the request) and we'll see what they do. Presumably it would be Mr. Kazanjian that makes the request."
"I really haven't decided anything," Kazanjian said yesterday afternoon. "I have to make a decision one way or another."
"I'm not going to do it," Henrick said, saying he wanted to give up the seat to Kazanjian in the first place to avoid a costly recount.
Henrick, 70, has said Kazanjian, 61, is younger and "too damn good a guy to lose" from the committee.
"If he wants to do it, I have no problem," Henrick said.
Touma-Conway said there are different options for recounting the votes. Kazanjian or Henrick could request all 12 precincts be recounted by hand — the most expensive option — or to have only Precinct 7 recounted by hand, which would cost less than a full-blown recount, or just to have the ballots from Precinct 7 rerun through the machine.
"If we take the ballots and run them all through the machine again, it's not going to cost anybody anything except the time it takes to do that," Touma-Conway said. "Truth be told, I think the most accurate way to recount them is to put them back through the machine."
Voting machines regularly become jammed temporarily, resulting in one or two votes not being counted, but that usually doesn't affect an election because the votes usually aren't as close as the result between Kazanjian and Henrick. Plus, it's rare for as many as six votes to go uncounted, Touma-Conway said.
Poll workers called the City Clerk's office to report problems with the machine, but the machine stopped jamming on its own, Touma-Conway said.
"The integrity of the process is being proven by the fact that we've discovered this and are talking about it," Touma-Conway said. "That's why we have all these checks and double checks and triple checks."