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3 more counties report errors
Franklin Co. equipment trouble wasn't an isolated incident

By Pam Tharp Palladium Item   16 November 2004
Franklin County isn't the only Indiana county that had programming troubles with optical scan voting equipment this year.

Ripley, Brown and Carroll counties each had a different problem, ranging from handcounting a race because the software program didn't comply with Indiana law to 63 unvoted ballots in one precinct, according to the scanner's tally tape.

The Legislature decided this year that all voting systems will get another look next year. Certification of voting systems approved by the Indiana Election Commission before Jan. 1, 2005, expires on Oct. 1, 2005, said Kate Shepherd, communications director for Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.

In the past, voting systems approvals lasted five years, but because of the changes in voting systems over the last few years, the General Assembly decided all systems must be recertified next year, Shepherd said.

Voting systems already must undergo a public test in each county before the election and that's where Ripley County discovered an error with Fidlar Election Co. optical scan memory cards, Ripley County Clerk Ginger Bradford said.

The memory cards that count the votes in optical scanners had the wrong precinct labels, so the cards were sent back to the company, Bradford said. Bradford said she didn't know if the error could be called a programming error.

"They reprogrammed the cards when they got them back, so it sounds maybe like it was a programming error," Bradford said.

A programming error in Fidlar optical scanners in Franklin County led to a recount last week. The error caused straight-party Democratic ballots to be counted for Libertarian candidates and straight-party Libertarian ballots to be counted for Democratic candidates, Fidlar officials said.

The recount changed the outcome of the election, awarding one of three seats to formerly defeated Democrat Carroll Lanning and taking a seat from the initially declared winner, Republican Roy N. Hall. Hall is considering a challenge.

Carroll County, with optical scanners from Election Systems and Software (ES&S), had to handcount county council votes in its 19 precincts on election day. The Indiana Election Commission determined the computer program didn't comply with Indiana law for that office, Carroll County Clerk Laura Sterrett said.

Indiana's law has a quirk many voters may not realize.

Voters who vote a straight ticket but want to vote for candidates of another party in multi-candidate races like at-large council will lose all votes for candidates in that race from their own party.

If a voter votes a straight Democratic ticket but picks one Republican in the at-large race, no votes count for the Democratic candidates. Only the Republican vote is counted.

Carroll County had one Democratic candidate and two Republican candidates for county council, Sterrett said. A voter who marked a straight Democratic ticket but then voted for the two Republicans should have lost the vote for the Democratic council candidate, but ES&S's program would have counted all three votes, Sterrett said.

Carroll County had the same software problem in the 2003 municipal election in one precinct, which also was handcounted, Sterrett said.

"We thought it was taken care of. We had addressed it to the election commission, but when we did the pre-test this year, it wasn't fixed," Sterrett said.

Brown County, which also uses ES&S optical scanners, considered recounting votes in one precinct because the tally tape produced by the scanner showed 63 unvoted ballots.

"We were concerned about the machine or the pens that were used to mark the ballot," Clerk Benita Fox said. "We've never had that many unvoted ballots before. The law doesn't allow the election board to reject certification by the precinct board, so we didn't do anything. We will be looking at that problem in the future."

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