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County retallies early-vote results

Will recount affect Democratic commission sweep?


Charlotte Observer   04 November 2004

Mecklenburg County officials were spending Thursday morning retallying all early-voting results as they tried to find the source of a stunning election-night foul-up.

Elections Director Michael Dickerson sat in his office with printouts from all 97 machines used for early voting, manually entering totals into a spreadsheet. A second team of election staffers was preparing to double-check his findings. Dickerson said he expected to finish the work late Thursday afternoon.

The problem could affect the outcomes of several races, including Mecklenburg County commissioner at-large, Superior Court judge, Commissioner of Agriculture and State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The basic problem is this: there are more votes than voters.

According to election-office data downloaded by the Observer, 102,109 people voted early or returned valid absentee ballots. But unofficial results show 106,064 people casting early and absentee votes for president.

Dickerson said the typical post-election audit would have caught the problem, but he acknowledged that a discrepancy of this magnitude was unprecedented in his six years as elections director in the state's largest county.

Dickerson suspected that some results may have been counted twice.

"Our job will be to find which ones," he said Thursday morning.

The unofficial results posted Tuesday night showed a surprising Democratic sweep of all three county commissioner at-large seats. Republican Ruth Samuelson was trailing third-place Democrat Jennifer Roberts by 1,921 votes. Republican Dan Ramirez was a distant fifth.

There was one other close county election - a race for Superior Court judge where 72 votes separated Linwood Foust and Karl Adkins. Two Council of State races are also very close.

Dickerson learned about the problem Wednesday afternoon, when he was approached by two Republicans: county commissioner-elect Dan Bishop and Brian Francis, Samuelson's campaign manager.

Bishop said Wednesday that he saw no reason to question the election's integrity, and said officials worked quickly to find the problem.

"Whatever the source of that (is) needs to be tracked down thoroughly and aired, made real clear," he said. "And I'm sure they'll do that." Republicans had spent the day puzzling over their poor showing in Mecklenburg County.

"First you get the condolence calls," said Samuelson, a two-term district incumbent. "Then people called back and said, 'Something is not adding up.'."

Heavy turnout made Tuesday a busy night for vote counters, and an early-voting computer glitch slowed results. Workers called out numbers and entered them into a spreadsheet.

Democrats expressed surprise when they learned about the problem from the Observer.

"You certainly want to be sure the votes were cast correctly and they were counted correctly," Roberts said. "You want to make sure the process is right."

Democrat Parks Helms, the leading vote-getter in the county race, said he did not doubt about the election results.

"If there is any irregularity, I think they ought to check it out and see if it's appropriate," he said. "I don't think anyone should object to that. I certainly don't, but I want it done properly and I want to be sure that the people who have an interest in it have an opportunity to be available and to participate."

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