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Recount changes no race

Statewide margins shift; more glitches come to light


Charlotte Observer   18 November 2004

Recounts across the state Wednesday changed the margin of victory but not the victors in two statewide races.

Democrat June Atkinson led the race for state superintendent of public instruction by 8,499 in the recount completed Wednesday. Republican Bill Fletcher had trailed by 9,254 in the count immediately after the election.

Republican Steve Troxler led the agriculture commissioner's race by 2,342 votes over Democrat Britt Cobb, a from the 2,656 margin in the general election tally.

Numbers changed slightly in almost every county.

State officials wrestled with several glitches in an election already marred by mechanical and human error.

Some of those questions were in Gaston County, as Elections Director Sandra Page and the elections board worked to avoid a repeat of errors in the county's initial results.

The three-member Board of Elections discovered about 75 new votes in each contested race during the recount Tuesday while reviewing roughly 750 ballots completed curbside by voters unable to enter the polling place. They counted the ballots again Wednesday and confirmed the additional votes. All said they could not explain the change.

Board chairman Tony Branch said state officials told the board to file the results and then investigate. He said the investigation would begin today.

The board also resubmitted results for one South Gastonia precinct instead of recounting it, because a disk on which the votes were stored was broken when removed from a computer on Election Day. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the state board of elections, said it should be possible to retrieve voting information from the machines on which the votes were cast, but did not say whether the state would require that.

"This just isn't fun anymore," Page said, as she worked to resolve a glitch. "I wish this election were over."

In other incidents statewide:

? State officials learned that precinct workers left 120 provisional ballots behind at a Cleveland County fire station on Election Day, and firefighters threw the papers away the next day.

"From what I understand," said Bartlett, "they're in the landfill."

? Guilford County officials overlooked 93 provisional ballots in their secure storage area when they counted after the election. Those ballots were included in the recount.

? Bartlett asked Harnett County to conduct their recount a second time Wednesday after they double counted a batch of ballots. When that is finished, the county's total and the statewide total in the recount will decrease slightly.

? Onslow County is researching a small discrepancy in its totals that emerged during the recount and likely won't have final figures until today.

? Orange County also counted a group of ballots twice but corrected the error.

The state Board of Elections will meet the week of Nov. 29 and, among other issues, consider how to resolve the previously disclosed loss of 4,438 votes in Carteret County because of malfunctioning machines. The board could ask the voters whose votes were lost to vote again, since the county can identify who came to the polls, or order a new election.

The board has to consider "what options are legal and would stand the test in court if a lawsuit was filed," Bartlett said.

At the same meeting, board members will wrestle with the question of how to count provisional ballots cast by voters outside their home precincts. Fletcher, the Republican candidate for state schools superintendent, and Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James have sued over the ballots, highlighting the state constitution's requirement that a voter live in his or her "precinct, ward or other election district" for 30 days before the election.

On Monday, a judge denied a request from James and Fletcher for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped the recount. The judge is expected to have another hearing on the case Nov. 29.

Many counties including Mecklenburg finished their recounts today without incident.

In addition to the state races, Mecklenburg County election officials also recounted a race for a local Superior Court judgeship.

Candidate Karl Adkins had trailed opponent Linwood Foust by 121 votes in the initial count. The recount narrowed that margin to 116 votes.

The recount in Mecklenburg was shorter and smoother than the original count.

Last week, Board of Elections members spent three days in a room filled with attorneys, reporters and political observers. Tensions ran high.

One candidate's campaign manager filed a lawsuit, settled when both parties agreed the campaign manager could observe their handling of provisional ballots from 4 feet away a distance marked by masking tape.

The recount took about four and a half hours. The blue masking tape had been removed. The room was almost empty.

Staff members downloaded cartridges from the voting machines used on Election Day, rechecked the paper tapes showing early voting machine totals and reran the punch cards used by provisional, absentee and curbside voters.

The only changes to the vote counts came in the punch card count.

Election officials had been forced to revise their unofficial numbers after incorrectly tallying ballots from early voting machines on Election Night.

Dickerson said the Election Day machine cartridges were all intact, and downloaded properly.

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