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Lancaster County counts by hand after malfunction

1,600 absentee ballots could affect some races


Special to the Charlotte Observer   04 November 2004

LANCASTER, S.C. - Huddled in the basement of the Lancaster County Administration Building, election officials late Wednesday were manually tallying results of about 1,600 absentee ballots.

A malfunction stopped the computerized tally late Tuesday night about a third of the way through, and elections officials said they were unable to restart the procedure.

After hours on the phone with technical support people from the manufacturer of their Patriot voting machines, a printout of each voter's ballot was successful, they said. However, results had to be counted by hand.

Cassie Stump, county registrar, said the county had its largest absentee vote ever.

Although the absentee vote represents less than 1 percent of the county's total of more than 20,000 votes, final results could affect some local races with close margins. For instance, the County Council District 3 margin between Wesley Grier (1,392) and Robert Catoe (1,306) is only 86 votes. District 5 could also potentially be affected. Council Chairman Rudy Carter (1,663) currently holds the lead over Donnie Birchfield (1,326).

Officials were unclear about which races are affected and would not say how long the tally will take to complete.

Sylvia Taylor, vice chairman of the county elections commission, said the manufacturer of Lancaster's machines was delayed in helping the county because another big client had a problem. The company first responded late Tuesday night, but weren't able to solve the problem then, she said.

In York County, elections officials plan an automatic recount in the York School Board Seat 5 contest where a mere 14 votes separate the winner from the loser.

Incumbent Nancy Latham had 710 votes in her favor and small-business owner Richard Bolin had 696 votes. State election law requires a recount when the margin is 1 percent or less, said York County Election Director Wanda Hemphill.

Latham, who has held the seat for 12 years, declined to comment on the recount; Bolin, who said he had been asked by friends to run, said he felt good about his campaign "regardless of whether we won or lost."

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