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Democrats' leader decries voting glitches

Published: Sat, Nov 6, 2004

Unofficial returns showed 51,818 ballots cast but 47,768 recorded for president.



SHARON, Pa. ? Mercer County Republicans aren't really concerned about glitches with county voting machines that caused problems in Tuesday's election.

The Rev. Donald Wilson, party chairman, said Friday that he doesn't want to jump to any conclusions about the problems and suggested that the county elections office be allowed to do its official ballot count and move on from there.

His counterpart in the Democratic Party, Bob Lark, was less forgiving.

Called for firing

He advised the Mercer County commissioners Thursday that they should fire Jim Bennington, county director of elections, because the county appeared ill-prepared for glitches with electronic touch-screen voting machines in about a dozen precincts in the county's southwestern corner. Bennington was unavailable for a response before Vindicator press time.

Lark charged that a number of voters may have been disenfranchised by the problems that shut down voting machines for all or most of the day. Some precincts didn't have enough paper ballots for people to fill out, and Lark said he suspects some people didn't bother coming back when a new supply of paper ballots arrived.

He had no estimate on how many people may have missed a chance to vote, but he did have some questions Friday about the accuracy of the count coming out of the electronic machines that were working.

Lark cited statistics collected by a poll worker at the Farrell municipal building poll, which showed the voting machine recorded that 289 people cast ballots.

Machine's record

The machine, however, recorded a total of 48 votes for U.S. Sen. John Kerry and three votes for George W. Bush in the presidential race.

Lark said he finds it difficult to believe that only 51 people out of the 289 who voted actually cast a ballot in the presidential race.

The end of the ballot contained a municipal consolidation issue, and the machine showed that 240 people cast a ballot on that item, he said.

Even the county's Web site appeared to show a similar conflict, reporting that 51,818 people cast ballots but 47,768 ballots were recorded in the presidential race, including 61 write-ins.

It would appear that about 4,000 votes could be unaccounted for.

Lark said that number wouldn't include people who simply gave up trying to vote because machines were down and paper ballots unavailable.

The unofficial vote count released by the county showed that Bush narrowly carried the county.

"There has to be an element of trust," Wilson said, adding that people working in the courthouse have integrity and will do their best to provide an accurate count. Honest mistakes happen, he added.

This should be looked at as a learning experience, Wilson said, adding, "We're going to come through it."

The official vote count began Friday morning and is expected to take two weeks.

To check machines

County Commissioner Olivia Lazor said that, in light of the machine problems, all 250 machines used in the election will be checked to determine if the numbers they reported election night were accurate.

Lark said he repeatedly asked commissioners, who double as the elections board, to extend voting hours so people could come back to the polls.

Those requests began as early as 8:30 a.m. Election Day, he said.

Commissioners met with the county's judges around 4 p.m. that day, but no formal request to extend voting hours was filed with the court, said President Judge Francis J. Fornelli of common pleas court.

People in one Shenango precinct were still voting around 9:30 p.m., but that's because they were already in line when the polls officially closed at 8 p.m., county officials said.

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