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Bexar computer glitch delays counting of votes

Tom Bower
San Antonio Express-News

Tabulation computers for Bexar County's almost-new $8.5 million touch-screen voting system had to be re-programmed midway through Tuesday's count, momentarily throwing the local party primaries into disarray for the second time in two years.

Tabulation of the Bexar County votes was delayed for about 1 1/2 hours, beginning about 8 p.m.

After tabulation resumed, results quickly were posted on the county's Web site and by 10:06 p.m., the Elections Department was showing 85 percent of the local voted had been tallied.

"We were concerned, as anyone would be, when you don't see that things are working they way that they should be," Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky said after counting resumed.

It was a different story at a viewing room set up for poll watchers outside the tabulation center.

"They have big problems," said Nick Peña, a poll watcher for District 28 U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio. "They look very worried.

"They have a bunch of technicians in the tabulation room, and they are pulling out wires and reattaching them, and the computer screens are all frozen. You can tell that something is happening," Peña said.

At least twice during the ordeal, Borofsky was in touch with County Judge Nelson Wolff in Washington, where he's participating in the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce's S.A. to D.C. annual lobbying campaign.

Wolff downplayed the delay, noting the Elections Department was able to rally.

"I haven't heard anything, yet, that's terrible. We'll have to see what happens," Wolff said by phone.

Earlier in the evening, at a hastily called news conference on the third floor of the county's annex office building, Borofsky said the delay occurred after it was discovered the tabulation computers hadn't been properly programmed with d data in order to count the mail-in paper ballots.

The computer system then was taken off line and d with the information needed to process the 3,000 paper ballots, which were tabulated using high-speed scanners.

"The problems did not have anything to do with the iVotronic touch-screen voting machines or the tabulation of the early voting results.

"This is totally only related to reading the mail-in ballots with the optical scanners," Borofsky said.

The tabulation delay stirred bad memories of the March 12, 2002, primaries, when neither political party mustered enough election workers and some polls remained open until 10 p.m..

Those final results were delayed until late into the night.

That election fiasco was topped in the Nov. 5, 2002. general election, when a two-page paper ballot caused unprecedented delays in tabulating the votes.

Final returns in that election were not posted until 36 hours after the polls closed, sparking calls for Borofsky's ouster as elections administrator.

Borofsky's job was saved when members of Commissioners Court and the Bexar County Elections Commission were persuaded that other parties shared in the blame for the back-to-back election debacles.

Commissioners Court, under Wolff's leadership, also moved quickly to purchase a new touch-screen voting system that has yielded tallies of 90 percent of the returns by 10 p.m. in the last two major elections.

Other problems Tuesday involved voter confusion regarding polling sites, the ballots, and precinct-level party conventions — problems that are typical of the primaries.

In Pct. 3074, at the Woods of Shavano Community Club, Mark Robeck said the first voting machine he used would not allow him to choose his candidate for president in the Democratic Primary.

After alerting poll workers to the problem — and demonstrating the malfunction for them — Robeck said his voting sequence was cancelled on that machine, and he was directed to another voting machine, which worked flawlessly.

Shortly after the problem was uncovered, Morgan said, one of the county's roving computer technicians recalibrated the malfunctioning machine.

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