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Discovery of test votes leads to recount

By:David J. Mitchell, Daily Star Staff Writer
March 10, 2004

      PONCHATOULA - Test votes left in the Secretary of State's computer system blocked out the vote tallies of eight citywide precincts and changed winners in four races parishwide, Clerk of Court John Dahmer said this morning.
      Following recounts Tuesday night and this morning and a meeting with the Secretary of State, a voting machine manufacturer representative and clerk of court officials, Dahmer said the current available results appear to him to be correct.

      "I feel confident these are the right results we have now," he said.

      Dahmer said that as a safety measure, the state system blocks out additional votes sent to it once it has accepted vote tallies from a given precinct. With the test votes left in the system - part of a checking measure commonly done days in advance of an election - the local results put into the system Tuesday night were not accepted. Instead early results included the test votes.

      "So it wouldn't accept the real votes. It's a safety factor," he said.

      Dahmer said he noticed that vote tallies seemed low in several city races, including the Ponchatoula District D election between Democrat Perry Graves and Michael Pugh. As late as 10:05 p.m., Graves had a four-vote lead with only 56 total votes cast.

      He said that tally did not match up with the turnout he saw Tuesday.

      "I told the state something's wrong. We've got a problem," he said.

      Several candidates in the Ponchatoula and Independence races also were reporting large discrepancies between results posted at precinct polling locations and what was available from the Secretary of State's Web site.

      Precincts affected by the test votes are the following: 70, 78, 71, 72, 72A, 73, 74 and 139.

      Races whose winners and losers changed are the following: city mayor, City Council District C, Democratic State Central Committee District 73 and the fifth spot in the Independence Town Council. Published accounts of election tallies in The Daily Star today reflect those changes, except for the Democratic Party race.

      Dahmer said the voting machines would be opened at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the parish voting machine warehouse on Woodscale Road.

      He said he is inviting the candidates to watch the process, which will include Secretary of State and Clerk of Court officials and representatives of the voting machine manufacturer, ES&S.

      Dahmer said he has contacted almost all the candidates whose race outcomes were affected and invited them to the machine opening.

     In an unrelated problem, the Republican State Central Committee District 62 race had final results but with none of the 11 precincts reporting. It was later determined that the results were the same once all precincts reporting, he said.

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