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Newspaper: Discrepancies found in numbers of Gaston votes, voters

The Associated Press   18 November 2004

GASTONIA, N.C. The number of recorded votes and voters don't match in more than half of the precincts in Gaston County, more evidence of Election Day problems.

The number of ballots cast and the number of voters signed in by poll workers were different in 29 of the county's 46 precincts, according to a review done by the Charlotte Observer. The discrepancies raise the possibility that some people could have voted twice, while others might have cast ballots that were not counted.

"What you're sharing with me is highly irritating," said Gaston Elections Director Sandra Page, who said she had not known of the problems.

She blamed the discrepancies on precinct workers who failed to follow instructions.

"We're sitting here victims of what happens out there, and we get the blame for it," she said.

At H.H. Beam Elementary School in south Gastonia, poll workers signed in 42 more people than the number of ballots recorded on the electronic voting machines.

At nearby Ashbrook High School, the problem was reversed: The precinct collected 81 more ballots than the number of names recorded by poll workers.

Countywide, in precincts where names exceed ballots, there were about 100 more names than ballots. In precincts where ballots exceeded names, there were about 400 more ballots than names. A total of almost 64,000 ballots were cast.

Gary Bartlett, director of the state elections board, said he had not heard of the problem but, "whenever something is not reconciled, it's troublesome."

He said he planned to contact the Gaston office Thursday about a variety of issues.

The county failed to include more than 13,000 votes - nearly one in five of those cast - in its unofficial election results. Some early votes were recorded improperly because of errors by poll workers. And a recount Tuesday of Gaston's optical scan ballots produced 75 additional votes in a pair of statewide races.

Page said she remained convinced that the county's reported election results are accurate. But she acknowledged that it will not be possible to know the name of every person who voted on Election Day.

When voters reach the front of the line at a Gaston County precinct, they sign next to their names on the voter roll, and a poll worker records it again in a second book used to track the total number of voters.

The number of recorded names exceeded the number of ballots cast in 15 precincts, the Observer found. In 10 of those precincts, the difference was five names or fewer.

Poll workers at some of those precincts reported that a small number of people left without voting after their names were recorded. And Page said some ballots also might not have been recorded because people pulled their voting cards too quickly from the voting machine.

The number of ballots cast exceeded the number of recorded names in 14 precincts.

Some of the largest differences may reflect only a failure by poll workers to record the names of people who voted curbside because of a disability. Those names can be retrieved from signed affidavits.

But many of the differences cannot be explained by curbside voting, Page acknowledged.

The Gaston Board of Elections said it was concerned by the findings.

Board member Richard Jackson said he would ask Page for a report documenting the number of voters and ballots cast in each precinct.


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