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Gaston investigates election tally errors

Maker of vote-counting machinery asked to check equipment

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM  Charlotte Observer   16 November 2004

GASTONIA - Gaston Elections Director Sandra Page said for the first time Monday that her office is investigating why more than 13,000 votes were excluded from the county's unofficial election results.

Page said the investigation so far pointed to an interrupted download as the likely cause of the exclusion of about 12,000 early votes. She said human error by poll workers probably resulted in the omission of 1,200 votes from a Dallas precinct.

The Gaston elections office has faced mounting criticism for its initial failure to count the votes and because almost a week passed after the Nov. 2 election before the errors were corrected. The errors were caught before the county submitted its official results to the state, and they did not change the outcome of any local race.

Monday was Page's first day at work since last Tuesday she has been home sick and she said she moved quickly to find out what went wrong.

Page said she has asked the company that manufactured Gaston's vote-counting machines, Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas, to review the operation of its equipment. A spokesman for Diebold confirmed that the company is doing so.

The county pays a technician from Diebold to operate its systems on Election Day. That person was in charge of transferring early votes from electronic storage to the counting computer. Diebold believes the transmission was interrupted, said spokesman David Bear.

"It's understood that it was an interruption, and now the question is why didn't we" catch it, Bear said.

Page said she was also planning to speak with poll workers at the Dallas precinct about the possibility that they transmitted their votes incorrectly to the elections office on Election Day.

The laptop computer used to transmit results from the Dallas Civic Center recorded only a single vote from each of the precinct's voting machines, Page said.

The votes are transferred from the machines to the laptop by disk. Page believes the error occurred because poll workers removed the disks from the laptop too quickly.

"These aren't computer people," she said.

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